With three weeks until the Nov. 6 elections, Wisconsin is a microcosm of the entire country, with both the presidential and senatorial races within a single percentage point, according to a Marquette University Law School poll. With overall national polls showing the presidential race just as tight and the senate majority still up for grabs, the Wisconsin voter is very much in the spotlight.
The recall saw a record amount of money being spent on Wisconsin from outside the state. Non-partisan watchdog Wisconsin Democracy Campaign reported more than $60 million was spent on the race, and both candidates received money from people around the country. The WDC said more than 70 percent of Gov. Scott Walker’s individual contributions came from out of state.
I bring this up as outside spending ramps up in the senate race, where, WisconsinWatch.org reported $14.5 million has poured into the state, funding ads sarcastically bashing Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., as a more liberal Bob Marley and former Gov. Tommy Thompson more crooked than Bernie Madoff. Another $20 million is being spent by the presidential campaigns to say basically the same thing.
Ads like this have become par for the course for Wisconsin. Other states are in similarly heated situations, but only Wisconsin has been doing it pretty much non-stop since Feb. 14, 2011.
I’ve read about some voters being tired of it all, which I completely understand. We have seen, more than most, how predictable, negative and repetitive the modern ad campaign has become. But I am more impressed by the vast majority of Wisconsinites committed to voting and making their decisions on a race-by-race basis. With more than 60 percent of Wisconsin voters turning out for the recall and more likely to turn out in November, it is clear Wisconsinites have been disillusioned by a year and a half of what feels like a constant election.
Perhaps most interesting is the willingness of voters to treat each race individually. After electing the president by almost 14 points in 2008, Wisconsin turned around and elected someone diametrically opposite. Twice.
Now, with three weeks remaining in the races, the nation’s eye is focused intently on us again, as the state that seemed to have decided to flip again and vote Democratic with Marquette polls in mid-September showing Baldwin and Obama with comfortable 9 and 6 point leads respectively, now looks decidedly undecided.
Regardless of how the elections come out in a few weeks, Wisconsin is an incredibly interesting site of modern politics. The constant elections have led to a robust discussion about nearly every issue in the nation, and our electorate remains committed not to choosing which team it wants to win every time, but to which individual will do the most good at this time. The amount of campaign money and independent expenditures spent to convince voters to vote one way or another bears this idea out. Because no matter how unlimited the spending of outside groups can be, you don’t spend this much to talk to people who aren’t listening.
The presidential debates have had a marked impact on the polls here, another example of the Wisconsin voter’s keen interest in the individuals running. With another debate last night for the state Senate race, it will be interesting to see if that race is influenced in the same way.
Whatever the case, the Wisconsin voter remains at center stage in the national conversation for having an open mind and a commitment to voting. And that’s a good thing.
John Waters (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a junior majoring in journalism.