State News

UW-Madison expert: Baldwin faces tougher re-election fight than Walker

A “sizable group of Republican officials” is considering a run against U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., according to Barry Burden, a UW-Madison political science professor.

Image By: Katie Scheidt

Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s re-election chances are “mixed,” but Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin is “in a more difficult place,” according to a UW-Madison expert.

Barry Burden, a UW-Madison professor of political science who focuses on campaigns, elections and public opinion, says Republicans see Baldwin’s seat as a prime take-back opportunity, while Democrats are having a hard time finding a viable candidate to challenge Walker.

“There is a sizable group of Republican officials, many of whom are in the state Legislature, considering a run against [Baldwin],” Burden said. “It also appears that national groups are making her seat a priority and will be running ads against her in the hopes of gaining another Republican senator.”

Walker, on the other hand, is expected to significantly outraise his theoretical opponent, and Democrats may be reluctant to enter the race because of that.

“No prominent Democrats have stepped forward to challenge [Walker] and some who would be formidable such as Representative Ron Kind have actively declined to run,” Burden said. “[Walker] currently faces no significant opponents and is expected to raise large amounts of money without much difficulty.”

But Burden also said there are reasons to think Walker may be in trouble if a strong Democratic candidate jumps in the race.

“[Walker’s] approval ratings are lower going into this election cycle than in the years before his previous victories. It appears that his presidential campaign left a lasting mark on the public's views of him,” Burden said. “His party is also not entirely on board his policy agenda, especially in terms of transportation and education spending.”

A Marquette University Law School poll conducted last month showed that 40 percent of Wisconsinites approve of Baldwin’s job performance, while 35 percent disapprove. The same poll showed a 45 percent approval rate for Walker, with 48 percent disapproving.

While Walker’s numbers are not good, they still represent his best performance in the Marquette poll since 2014.

Although Republicans dominated midterm elections in 2010 and 2014, those races took place under President Barack Obama, and some national Democratic operatives have expressed hope that under President Donald Trump’s unpopular administration their party will fare better.

Baldwin’s Senate race will be watched throughout the country, as some believe Wisconsin to be a bellwether of national public opinion. The race is expected to be hotly contested.

“Baldwin is a point of pride for Democrats, and Republicans view her seat as the last significant office in the state that they have yet to take,” Burden said. “This will be a hard-fought race.”

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