Monday, August 11, 2014

Lesson of the 2012 Dem primary- rural counties matter

On the eve of tomorrow's primary election day, I was trying to think if any of these results can give us a clue for how things may look in November, particularly involving the Dems' Attorney General primary. So I took a look at the 2012 Dem recall primary for governor in Wisconsin to see if we should have seen signs of trouble for Tom Barrett that became apparent in the General Election against Governor Scott Walker. Given that A-G candidate (and probable favorite to win) Jon Richards is a Milwaukee candidate as well, it may be a good proxy comparison to see if there is some kind of numbers to look for.

Barrett won the 2012 Dem recall primary with 58.1% of the vote statewide, easily outdistancing his other 3 opponents. I split the list of Wisconsin counties into 3 categories, which ended up including 59 of the 72 counties of the state.

1. Red- Counties where Barrett underperformed his 58.1% total by 10% or more (48.1% or less). These were 33 counties in total

2. Orange- Counties where Barrett underperformed his total by 5%-10% (48.1%-53.1%). These were 16 counties in total.

3. Green- Counties where Barrett was above 60.0% (overperformed by 1.9% or more). These were 10 counties that this happened in.

Then, I took a look at the results in the June 2012 recall election. That's an election where Walker ended up winning by just over 7%, and he took more votes than Barrett in 60 of Wisconsin's 72 counties.

Then I cross-listed these counties it with the 2012 presidential election, which President Obama won statewide 53-46, with Barack taking roughly half the counties. The results are illuminating.

So let's go back to our 3 categories from the 2012 Recall primary and see if there are any patterns.

Red counties-
Barrett won 2 of 33 (normally blue La Crosse County, and heavily blue Menominee County).
Obama won 16 of 33 (nearly half)

Almost all of the 14 other counties Obama won were rural counties in Western and Northern Wisconsin. Some of this owes to the fact that State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout had her largest areas of strength in Western Wisconsin (Vinehout had 4% of the total Dem vote in the primary, but consistently ran in double digits in her home area), but it also showed that rural voters in that area weren't all that warm to Barrett. And Barrett's inability to win those traditionally blue-leaning but swingy rural counties of the state was a big reason behind Walker's win.

Orange counties-
Barrett won 2 of 16 (blue-voting Columbia and Rock Counties)
Obama won 7 of 16 (includes swingy NE Wisconsin counties like Winnebago and Door, along with 4 counties in the 608 area code in South Central and SW Wisconsin).

Obama also came close to winning the Appleton and Green Bay-area counties of Brown and Outagamie, while Barrett got hammered by 20%, with huge turnout also bolstering Walker in that area. Keeping it close in NE Wisconsin is a big key for the Burke campaign this Fall.

Green counties-
Barrett won 5 of 10.
Obama won 6 of 10.

These Green counties fall almost entirely in two categories: 1. The Milwaukee media market (Barrett's home turf, and Tom was the only Milwaukee-area candidate in the 2012 gov primary, just like Richards in the 2014 A-G primary). 2. Other hard-core Dem areas in the state (Dane County, and three counties that border Lake Superior where Dems usually win by 20%-30%).

The Milwaukee-area counties include the counties in the 262 that are Walker's largest source of votes (Waukesha, Washington, Ozaukee, and Racine). And as I mentioned two years ago, Dane County and the Milwaukee area usually aren't an issue of getting voters to swing to your side as much as it is driving up (or down) turnout, due to the inelastic nature of these voters.

Interestingly, running up the score in the two biggest counties in Wisconsin was the one thing the Barrett campaign did well in 2012- Dane and Milwaukee Counties had turnout at or near presidential levels. But losing all those red and orange counties was what did him in, and allowed Walker to keep his job. It seems pretty evident that Mary Burke and whoever wins the Attorney General race needs to perform well in NE and western Wisconsin tomorrow, and the results on Tuesday night could give an indication how much work they have to do.

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