The latest Marquette University Law School Poll results show that the long-predicted “blue wave” in November might not crash into Wisconsin after all. While 2018 may indeed be a big Democrat year, voters in Wisconsin are telling pollsters that they don’t much care for Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin.
After nearly a full six-year term, Senator Baldwin has the support of just 37% of the poll’s respondents, while 39% have an unfavorable view of her. A full 20% say they don’t know enough about her to form an opinion. In an election year, those numbers are nothing short of catastrophic for an incumbent. Not only is she underwater, she has clearly accomplished so little in her time in Washington that a fifth of Wisconsinites can’t say one way or another what they think about anything she’s done (or, more accurately, failed to do).
This means that her challengers, State Senator Leah Vukmir and businessman Kevin Nicholson, are still able to define for voters who exactly Baldwin is–a scary proposition for any vulnerable incumbent. Though Nicholson and Vukmir are still virtual unknowns–a whopping 80% of Marquette Poll respondents don’t yet know enough about either to form an opinion–they have a tremendous opening to build their candidacies on the back of Baldwin’s shameful negligence on opioid over-prescription at the Veterans Affairs facility in Tomah.
Because of Baldwin’s remarkably low profile in Washington, her refusal to listen to a whistleblower’s information about the problems at the VA is what overwhelmingly defines her term in office. This is a transgression that cuts through the static of nonstop election-year political advertising and either changes voters’ minds or steels their resolve to vote out their do-nothing Senator.
Let’s face it: “Senator Baldwin did nothing while our veterans died of overdoses” is a far more powerful message than “Senator Baldwin is wrong on trade policy.”
This is the uphill battle that Baldwin has to fight, and the fact that she is brazenly (and dishonestly) running advertisements touting her record on veterans affairs speaks volumes about how scared she is that this issue will cost her re-election.
Conversely, the poll shows that Governor Walker should be feeling confident in his bid for re-election. He stands at 47% approval with 47% disapproval–the exact same split he saw in the March, 2014 Marquette Poll. He went on to defeat Mary Burke rather handily that November even though Burke was the Democratic Party’s hand-picked candidate and faced no serious competition in the primary.
This year, a crowded Democratic primary field is ensuring that none of the candidates has eight free months to attack Walker. They must instead spend every moment and every dollar differentiating themselves from the rest of the pack. In all likelihood, this means moving to the left of the competition in a bid to secure the Democratic Party’s increasingly radical base.
Ask Hillary Clinton how well that worked two years ago.
Wisconsin’s Democrats made it clear during that primary that they wanted an avowed socialist, Bernie Sanders, and chose him overwhelmingly over the more moderate Clinton. Similarly, to escape the 2018 primary, a more moderate Democrat like Tony Evers (who is currently leading the field at 18%) will have to move left to fend off a challenge from the likes of Madison Mayor Paul Soglin or Firefighters Union President Mahlon Mitchell.
Making matters even worse for the Democratic field, 53% of Marquette poll respondents say Wisconsin is on the right track. With record-low unemployment and major business investments in the state during Walker’s tenure in office, it will be very difficult to change voters’ minds that the past seven years have been very good for the state.
The one bit of good news that Democrats received from this poll is the enthusiasm gap: While 54% of Republicans say they are very motivated to vote this year, 64% of Democrats say the same. It will therefore take far less convincing to get Democrats out to the polls and, as has been proven time and again in Wisconsin, winning requires that a candidate first and foremost turn out the base.
If Democrats can do this in far greater numbers than Republicans, then they can theoretically recapture the Governor’s mansion and hold onto the Senate seat, but there is simply no indication that the voter base that elected Walker three times in three years will suddenly abandon him in 2018. If that happens, and if enough of the 20% of voters who still don’t know about Senator Baldwin learn about and are repulsed by her handling of the Tomah V.A. scandal, then November might be far better for Wisconsin Republicans than they fear.