The backroom dealings at the Democratic Party of Wisconsin have been intriguing in the wake of the losses in last week's election. As part of these discussions, Assembly Dem Leader Peter Barca was challenged for his leadership,
and made the following claim to bolster the case to keep him on as the top Dem in the Assembly.
Barca told the caucus the next two successive elections -- one in a presidential year, the other with U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin on the ballot -- would be better for the party, noting the "headwinds" facing Dems both at the top of the ticket and nationally.
He also said vulnerable members met their goals for resources and outreach, and that each of the three Dem incumbents to lose out-performed the top of the ticket.
"If our candidates that just ran did poorly and the rest of the ticket did well, I wouldn't even ask for your vote,” Barca said.
This convinced enough Dems to keep Barca in his position, but we actually have the numbers to see if Barca's claim of "GOP year" is the reason Dems in the Legislature lost seats. I wrote an analysis about 16 months ago using the numbers from statewide elections in November 2012,
and narrowed it down to the district level for State Assembly and State Senate. So we can use that as a starting point to see how those figures held up (or didn't) in the 2014 elections.
First of all, since Scott Walker currently stands at 52.9% of the GOP vs. Dem vote share (52.3% of all voters, and Walker and Burke got a combined 98.9% of the vote) let's assume that it was a GOP +2.9% year, so any district that was Dem +2.9% or less "should have" gone to the Republicans under this theory. Now, let's look at the "most representative of Wisconsin" districts across the state, and see the results. I'll start in the State Senate while counting the races that were up in 2014 on this list, and I'll use the number above 50% (if the winner went over 50%) to do an apples-to-apples comparison.
Most representative Senate districts
Vinehout (D) Dem +1.5% Result: Dem +2.4%
Schultz (retired)(R) Dem +2.0% Result: GOP +5.1%
Jauch (D)(retired) Dem +3.4% Result: Dem +1.3%
Ellis (R) (retired) GOP +4.1% Result: GOP +7.2%
Moulton (R) GOP +4.5% Result: GOP +11.1%
Petrowski (R) GOP +5.3% Result: GOP +15.7%
Lassee (R) GOP +5.5% Result: GOP +11.5%
Larson (D) Dem +6.3% Result: Dem +9.6%
Leibham (R)(retired) GOP +7.2% Result: GOP +10.0%
Lehman (D) (retired) GOP +7.9% Result: GOP +11.5%
So looking at these numbers, let's point out that the GOP would have been projected to not only hold the 19-14 Senate advantage they will have in January, they would have been up 20-13. But Kathleen Vinehout not only won a race that she "should" have lost 51.4-48.6%, she overperformed the seat's rating entirely. In fact, Vinehout has won on swingy turf all in all 3 of her races, with the last 2 of them being in GOP wave years (2010 and 2014). Maybe an unapologetic populist isn't such a bad candidate, eh?
Also worth noting- the Schultz seat may well have been lost anyway, but the GOP overperformed in that Dem-leaning seat by 4.2%, and you have to think that Chris Larson's interceding in the race and endorsement of Pat Bomhack for the Dem nomination went a long way toward him stepping down as the Dems' leader in the Senate today, being replaced by La Crosse Senator Jennifer Shilling. Bob Jauch's seat up North was made into a close race in reflection of the GOP-leaning electorate, but Dems still held on. Ellis' and Leibham's open seats in Northeast Wisconsin ended up about as expected, (it may actually indicate overperformance by the Dems given how much Walker dominated in that part of the state), and John Lehman's open seat also went about as you'd anticipate, given the statewide result.
The major letdowns for the Dems were in Frank Lassee's district in NE Wisconsin, and Jerry Petrowski's district in Wausau/ North Central Wisconsin. Dems should be competitive in those seats with some wins in a good year, but the GOP candidate got over 60% in both of those races. Also noteworthy is that Larson may have disappointed in running the statewide elections for the Dems, but he did very well in his own district, overperforming by more than 6%. Keep that in mind if Larson tries for more local office in Milwaukee for the near future.
Moving over to the Assembly, you'll see things largely held to how they should have given the outcome of the Governor's race (with a couple of exceptions), which resulted in the GOP expanding their majority from 60-39 to 63-36. Remember, GOP +2.9% was the statewide margin, so adjust each race accordingly.
Most representative Assembly seats
Wright (D) GOP +0.6% Result: GOP +0.2%
Brooks (R) GOP +0.7% Result: GOP +7.8%
Bernier (R) GOP +1.6% Result: GOP +2.8%
Tranel (R) Dem +1.6% Result: GOP +11.3%
Nerison (R) Dem +1.8% Result: GOP +9.1%
Doyle (D) GOP +2.0% Result: Dem +4.1%
Ripp (open) (R) GOP +2.6% Result: GOP +7.5%
Bies (R) GOP +2.9% Result: GOP +6.8%
Krug (R) GOP +3.0% Result: GOP +6.0%
Klenke (open)(R) GOP +3.7% Result: GOP +6.3%
Vruwink (D) GOP +4.0% Result: GOP +2.8%
Hintz (D) Dem +4.0% Result: Dem +1.5%
Riemer (D) Dem +4.2% Result: Dem +5.7%
Murtha (R) GOP +4.3% Result: UNOPPOSED
Weininger (open)(R) GOP +4.3% Result: GOP +9.1%
Larson (R) GOP +4.5% Result: GOP +10.6%
Smith (D) GOP +4.6% Result: GOP +4.9%
Rodriguez (R) GOP +4.7% Result: UNOPPOSED
Ballweg (R) GOP +4.8% Result: GOP +11.0%
Marklein (open)(R) Dem +5.0% Result: GOP +0.2%*
The only two seats where the "wrong" party won were in Steve Doyle's district near La Crosse (which could be a reflection of the La Crosse area turning Dem in general), and in Howard Marklein's former district in SW Wisconsin (a district filled with ads from the school voucher lobby), a race that's still subject to recount. It also shows that Mandy Wright, Amy Sue Vruwink and Steven Smith lost their seats not because of their deficiencies as a candidate, but because it was a GOP year. All 3 overperformed compared to what they were expected.
So perhaps Peter Barca was correct, it wasn't a lack of performance in swingy Assembly seats on Election Day compared to what was expected.
But that also shows the bigger issue- why did the Dems not win statewide after the damage of 4 years of Fitzwalkerstan (and were so scared of the terrain that they didn't even run candidates in a couple of these districts)? That's a failure of the state party to not give a unified message that made people want to go out and pull the lever for the Dems. And that's a big reason why Mike Tate has to go as the Party leader, because with the state gerrymandered in such a way that a GOP +2.9% year leads to big gains for Scott Walker's party, sitting back and accepting those GOP advantages is not an acceptable option- but Tate and the DPW did just that.
These numbers also show the opportunity, because if the Dems can win the state with 52% or 53% of the vote in 2016 (as Obama did in 2012), you can see that many of these Assembly seats go into play, and some should flip back. And given some of the wacky regressive stuff the State Legislature and Walker will likely try to jam through in the next 2 years, 52-53% may be a low figure if things blow up, and the opening will be there for the Dems to jump back in if they play their cards right.