State News

Your primer for Tuesday’s statewide primaries

With several heated races coming in November, Wisconsin’s state primaries have received an national spotlight.

Image By: Katie Scheidt

In one of the most anticipated primary elections in recent years, Wisconsinites will head to the polls Tuesday to select their party’s nominees for a swath of key races coming in the general election.

Seen as a major battleground in what will likely be a decisive midterm election, the state’s voters will decide who will make the ballot for governor, U.S. Senate and lieutenant governor, as well as several district-based legislative races, both state and federal.

Democratic primary for governor

Perhaps the most high-profile of them all is the contentious battle to decide which Democrat will face sitting Gov. Scott Walker.

With a level of name recognition and financial backing none of his opponents could hope to rival, Walker’s run for a third term may actually be his toughest yet.

The governor has always been a divisive figure in the state, but some recent polls show he might be more vulnerable than in the past.

Recent polls from Emerson College and Marist show Walker losing to current Democratic frontrunner and state superintendent Tony Evers, while pollsters at Wisconsin’s own Marquette University give Walker the edge.

“The Republicans have made gains in Wisconsin,” said Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. “But it may be difficult for the GOP to make a convincing case in 2018.”

Far and away the most well known candidate in the race thanks to years in statewide office, 31 percent of respondents in the Marquette poll prefered Evers, while no other candidate managed to reach double digits.

Relatively united on policy issues, like bolstering healthcare, education and infrastructure spending, other Democrats have struggled to make themselves known to the public, while Evers has used his background in education to make his case.

“As a member of the Board of Regents, Tony has seen firsthand the damage Scott Walker has inflicted on higher education in Wisconsin,” Maggie Gau, Evers’ campaign manager, told the Daily Cardinal. “He’s cut more from our UW System than almost any other governor in the country. When other states began reinvesting in higher education, Wisconsin chose not to and it’s resulted in fewer classes and quality educators for our kids.”

Of Evers’ seven opponents, former state Rep. Kelda Roys, state firefighters’ union head Mahlon Mitchell and former party chairman Matt Flynn are seen as the most viable competitors.

Roys, the former director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, is backed by women’s groups including Emily’s List and has been a successful fundraiser.

“Kelda Roys is entering the final stretch of this campaign with the resources, message, and momentum needed to win,” Roys campaign spokesperson Brian Evans said in a statement. “If Democrats want a candidate who can take on and take down Scott Walker, they must vote for Kelda Roys.”

Mitchell, age 41, is seen by some as another young, exciting alternative along with 39-year-old Roys.

With the backing of many of the state’s labor organizations, some see Mitchell as the candidate to challenge Walker on the effects of his 2011 Act 10 law, which disempowered most unions from collectively bargaining for wages and benefits.

Flynn has proven to be a divisive candidate — despite a strong foundation of support within the party, he has received significant backlash for his role as a lawyer for the Milwaukee Archdiocese during a major child sexual abuse scandal.

The other candidates, who many see as lacking the resources and support to make a run for the nomination, include progressive activist Mike McCabe, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, as well as lawyer and political newcomer Josh Pade.

Republican primary for Senate

As national Republicans hope to expand their slim, single vote majority in the U.S. Senate, the party has their eyes on incumbent Democrats up for reelection in states won by President Donald Trump.

Near the top of many Republicans list is U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who has had more money spent against her than any other Democratic incumbent.

The state party has backed state Sen. Leah Vukmir, who has garnered big name endorsements from the likes of House Speaker Paul Ryan, former national party chairman Reince Priebus and even hired Gov. Scott Walker’s son, Alex, as an aide.

The problem? Vukmir still may not win.

The Brookfield Republican is neck and neck with Kevin Nicholson, a marine veteran and businessman, who has been able to court some influential conservative donors into financing his primary stint.

Richard Uihlein, an Illinois businessman and Republican megadonor, has already dropped nearly $8 million in contributions and ads to either support Nicholson or oppose Vukmir.

Both have not been without controversy, however, as Vukmir has faced backlash for calling Trump, who remains extremely popular among the Republican rank-and-file, “offensive to everyone” in 2016. She later walked back that claim and affirmed support for her party’s president in an ad.

Nicholson, a former registered Democrat, faced criticism from Republicans for his former ties to their opponents, but said he drifted from the party long ago.

Both candidates heavily praised the president in their last primary debate; Nicholson said Trump has done “good work, and we should applaud him for it,” while Vukmir declared he is “standing for our country,"

While the two Republicans remain in a dead heat, Baldwin has held a strong lead against both in the polls, defeating Vukmir by 17 points and Nicholson by 15 points.

Republicans hope that with the primary will come the unity needed to flip the state’s key senate seat.

Democratic primary for lieutenant governor

Along with Gov. Scott Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch is running unopposed in the Republican primary, and will be up for reelection as a part of the party’s gubernatorial ticket.

On the other side, two Democrats are duking it out to pair up with whoever comes out on top of their party’s primary for governor.

Mandela Barnes, a former state legislator, has emphasized outlining a progressive legislative agenda as the key to inspiring voters in November.

"We have to stand up and run for something," Barnes said in his speech at the Democratic Convention in Oshkosh. "We have to talk about who we are as Democrats. We have to talk about our plan to expand opportunity across this entire state."

Barnes, a 31-year-old from Milwaukee, lost a 2016 primary bid for state Senate to current state Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee.

His opponent is Kurt Kober, a Sheboygan businessman who recently moved back to Wisconsin after a decade of living out of state.

Kober, like many Democrats, sees undoing Walker’s impact on the state as central to any party agenda.

"Imagine if we supported public education. Imagine if we supported a spirit of entrepreneurship in our state. Imagine if we once again embraced the Wisconsin Idea,” he said.

With control of Congress and a series of key state policy battles hanging in the balance, Wisconsin’s primary elections will set up more than a few races to watch in November.

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