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Tuesday, December 05, 2023
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Eight Wisconsin Legislature races to watch

Democrats are playing defense as Republicans shoot for a legislative supermajority.

Democrats are scrambling to defend key seats in the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate as Republicans push for a supermajority in the Nov. 8 election.

Wisconsin Republicans currently hold a 21-12 majority in the Senate and a 61-38 majority in the Assembly. 

If Republicans net one more Senate seat and five more Assembly seats on Election Day, they will secure a two-thirds supermajority that would allow them to override the governor’s legislative veto. This would also award them near-full control of the state, regardless of which party wins the governor’s election.

Republicans got a step closer to a supermajority in April when the Wisconsin Supreme Court chose the Republican-controlled Legislature’s proposal for redrawing Wisconsin’s legislative district lines over Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ plan, according to WPR. The state Supreme Court initially chose Evers’ map but reversed its decision after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his proposed map due to racial bias concerns.

A University of Wisconsin-Madison analysis of the new maps, which dictate election district boundaries through 2030, found it limited the potential for districts to change party representation in this year’s general election.

Though voting patterns in the new districts favor Republicans, Democrats hope to capitalize on Wisconsin’s abortion ban and other major federal legislation to prevent a Republican supermajority.

Here are eight Senate and Assembly races to watch:

Senate District 25 

Superior, Ashland, Rice Lake

Republican Romaine Quinn and Democrat Kelly Westlund are facing off in Wisconsin’s geographically largest state senate district in northwestern Wisconsin. Democrats have controlled this largely rural district in nine elections since 1987. However, with Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley (D-Mason) retiring this year, Republicans are hoping to flip this seat by capitalizing on recent conservative swings in Wisconsin’s rural areas. Senate District 25 leans Republican by 7.4 points, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, and the new district maps furthered that tilt, putting Democrats in a precarious situation. 

Senate District 31

Eau Claire, Osseo, Ellsworth

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Incumbent Sen. Jeff Smith (D-Brunswick) faces Republican challenger David Estenson in this largely rural district in western Wisconsin. The district, which voted for Donald Trump by four points in the 2020 presidential election, is another Republican pickup target. However, Republicans face a long history of Democratic representation in the district, and the new maps did little to change its slim Republican lean since Smith’s last election. Estenson also faces an added election challenge from allegations of misconduct while serving as a police officer in the Village of Strum, according to WisPolitics.

Assembly District 13

Brookfield

Republican Tom Michalski and Democrat Sarah Harrison are competing for an Assembly district that’s changed drastically since 2020. Current incumbent Sara Rodriguez (D-Brookfield) flipped this suburban district west of Milwaukee in 2020, but with Rodriguez leaving to run for Lieutenant Governor as well as the district’s estimated vote margin swinging over 16 points towards Republicans, Democrats face an uphill climb. Harrison is a business logician and activist, while Michalski used to work in IT and is now a volunteer firefighter in Elm Grove, according to their respective campaign websites. 

Assembly District 51

Dodgeville, Mineral Point

Incumbent Republican Rep. Todd Novak (R-Dodgeville) faces a tough challenge from restaurant owner and Town of Clyde clerk Leah Spicer in southwest Wisconsin. The 51st district has seen close elections in recent years and is a target for Democrats to flip, with the expected vote margin favoring Democrats by 2.2 points. Novak also serves as the mayor of Dodgeville and is the first openly gay Republican elected to the Legislature, according to the Cap Times

Assembly District 94 

Onalaska, Holmen

Incumbent Steve Doyle (D-Onalaska) has held his seat since 2011 despite the district’s slight Republican lean. Doyle’s Republican challenger Ryan Huebsch is a former legislative aide and the son of former Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch, according to WisPolitics. The district, which encompasses most of rural La Crosse county, is another area prone to a Republican flip.

Senate District 5

New Berlin, Brookfield, West Allis 

Democrat Jessica Katzenmeyer and Republican Rob Hutton are vying to replace outgoing Sen. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield), who announced he would not run for re-election after redistricting left him outside the 5th Assembly District. Though nationwide trends suggest a suburban pickup opportunity for Democrats, redistricting swung the district’s expected vote margin rightward from a near-even split to more than a 7-point Republican lean. Hutton is a business owner coming off an unsuccessful 2020 bid for Assembly District 13, while Katzenmeyer is a union leader and activist who would become the first openly transgender state lawmaker if she wins in November.

Assembly District 33

Fort Atkinson, Jefferson, Milton 

Rep. Don Vruwink (D-Milton) is running against Republican Scott Johnson after redistricting drew Vruwink out of his current Assembly district north of Janesville.  District 33 swung nearly 20 points to the left during redistricting but still maintains a roughly 4-point expected vote margin in favor of Republicans.

Senate District 19 

Appleton, Neenah

Current state Rep. Rachael Cabral-Guevara is taking on Democratic Appleton City Council member Kristin Alfheim in a hotly-contested state Senate race. The district, which contains Appleton, Neenah and rural areas west of the two cities, opened up after incumbent Roger Roth (R-Appleton) announced his campaign for Lieutenant Governor in February. Though Republicans have controlled this seat for nearly 40 years, the district has a slight lean towards Republicans and voted for  Donald Trump by just 2 points in the 2020 presidential election — giving Democrats a rare potential pickup opportunity. 

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