Primary Election Analysis
Election #3 of 4 for 2022 is now in the books for Wisconsin. After Tuesday’s fall partisan primary, the November 8 partisan general election ballots are set. Now we have 90 days of hard-hitting, probably almost non-stop political TV, radio, digital, text, phone calls, and mail ads, all designed to convince us to vote for a particular candidate.
But today, not yet 24 hours since the close of the polls yesterday, it’s time for a bit of reflection on the primary results. If our numbers are anywhere near accurate (and we think they’re close), turnout yesterday was about 26% of registered voters, which is higher than many other similar primaries. Big races brought people out.
Democrats didn’t have any meaningful statewide primary once 3 candidates for US Senate dropped out within the last couple of weeks, each throwing their support to Mandela Barnes. As a result, Republican voters far outnumbered Democrats. So, does any of this matter?
Yes, it does matter. Essentially the lower voter turnout (compared to fall elections which usually have turnouts at 60% or more) means that a very small number of eligible voters chose who will be on the November ballot and potentially who will be our next US Senator, members of congress, governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and state treasurer, as well as who will serve in our state Senate and Assembly. What that voter turnout means is that each vote was very powerful. If you voted, which we certainly hope you did, it means you made a difference—and we thank you for that.
As for the number of Democrats vs. Republican ballots cast, that doesn’t mean much at all as it relates to outcomes. But it well might matter in the long-run. In any given election, Wisconsin is purple. We can go “red” or “blue” at any moment. One intangible that definitely impacts an election in a state like ours is voter enthusiasm, which creates momentum. Without some research and comparison, we don’t know how yesterday’s Republican numbers compare with previous August primaries. If they are larger, then it could mean enthusiasm and momentum are right now with the GOP. We won’t really know that until the November election. All that said, here’s our first-blush analysis of the primary election results.
Tim Michaels won the GOP gubernatorial primary. Does that mean his money is buying the office—or could be buying the office? Or did the voters really think he’s better suited to go up against incumbent Democrat Tony Evers? Or did his messaging resonate with voters better than Rebecca Kleefisch’s? Or was Rebecca seen as establishment and Michels as truly the outsider who had built a successful business—kind of like Donald Trump? If anyone tells you authoritatively that they know the answer, we’d be really skeptical. So many things go into how a voter decides to vote; it’s difficult to get a clear picture in any election of the motivation of voters. Some research will be done, we’re sure, on this race; and we will eventually learn more, but even that won’t be 100% definitive.
The bottom line is Michels has by most everyone’s opinion an uphill battle to beat Tony Evers. Beating an incumbent is never easy, and this election will be no exception. Michels will have to be extremely disciplined in his messaging and in his general campaigning. We hope he’s got great people around him giving him great and appropriate advice. Time will tell.
No real surprise that Roger Roth won the GOP lieutenant governor race. Roger is well-known and liked by many. He sold us out a couple of sessions ago on an important pro-life bill; so we are very guarded when it comes to Roger.
The Attorney General race is one of our very favorite wins, with Eric Toney coming out on top. Our WFA PAC endorsed Eric Toney because he has the right positions on our core issues, has the right experience, and we believe had good people around him. Toney was significantly outspent by Adam Jarchow, but Toney’s experience and straight-forward messaging resonated with voters. Jarchow lying about Toney didn’t help Jarchow’s cause. Karen Mueller did better than we thought she would, way out-performing Tim Ramthun’s gubernatorial performance, with 3.5 times more votes (152,392 v. 41,695). Mueller was heavily aligned with Ramthun. We look forward to Eric Toney beating Josh Kaul this November and bringing back not just common sense, but a true regard for the law, to the AG’s office.
A key assembly GOP race was in Assembly District 63, where long-time and powerful incumbent Robin Vos was challenged by newcomer Adam Steen. Vos is the current (and longest serving) Assembly Speaker. Wisconsin Family Action PAC endorsed Steen, and Wisconsin Family Action, Inc., ran a sophisticated and full-on targeted campaign in support of Trump-endorsed Steen. We targeted nearly 28,000 voters and contacted them about 25 times each by a variety of means and with a variety of messages. At the end of the night, Steen lost, but only by 260 votes out of nearly 10,000 total votes cast. As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel notes, Vos “narrowly defeats” and “barely overcome[s]” in the race, which was a “stunning margin.” We agree. We are glad we engaged and don’t regret in the least the investment we made. We’ll analyze the results and see how our targeted universe performed.
Other State Senate and Assembly races happened, but nothing really shocking. What would be great is if the GOP could in November gain veto-proof majorities in the Assembly and the Senate. In the Senate the majority party would need to hold all of its current seats and pick up one seat. Before a number of recent resignations, the Assembly had 61 Republicans, just five short of a veto-proof majority. So statistically, this goal is achievable—which, if accomplished, would mean the ability to override Evers’ vetoes, should he win a second term in November.
In the Secretary of State and State Treasurer races (both non-policy-making offices), the results were not surprising with long-time Republican Assembly Representative Amy Loudenbeck winning the Secretary of State race. Jay Schroeder, who has run for nearly every office imaginable, lost once again but had a decent showing, largely because an election integrity group out of Virginia engaged in the race and sent numerous mailers out on behalf of Schroeder. Neither John Leiber nor Orlando Owens were particularly well-known, but Leiber solidly bested Owens.
Congressional primaries were similarly not shocking with GOP incumbents handily beating their GOP challengers. Ron Johnson, of course, resoundingly won his GOP US Senate primary, and is set to face Mandela Barnes, the current Lieutenant Governor, a race that has the attention of the entire nation because the balance of the US Senate is at stake.
Full election results are available here.