Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker may be pulling ahead of Democratic opponent Tom Barrett, while the race for U.S. Senate remains mostly a dead heat as the primary election approaches Sept. 14.
Preliminary Rasmussen polling in August showed Walker creeping ahead with a tentative eight-point lead over Barrett, leading the Rasmussen group to switch Wisconsin’s status from a “toss-up state” to “leans Republican” with these poll results. This may represent a statewide trend of voters leaning slightly to the right, said Barry Burden, political science professor at the University of Wisconsin..
“Wisconsinites are dissatisfied by the ways things have been going, particularly the state budget situation and economic performance,” Burden said. “Because Democrats are holding most state offices at the moment, they will pay a price for being incumbents.”
One of the biggest results coming out of the primary election will be which Republican candidate is going to battle Barrett in the general election Nov. 2.
Although Walker won the state GOP endorsement in May, he and Republican businessman Mark Neumann have continued to face off through TV and radio ads, and most recently, during a debate on Aug. 25. The odds of Neumann pulling out a dark horse victory may be slim, however.
“It will be a shock if Walker doesn’t win handily in the primary,” Burden said. “It is difficult to know precisely which elements within the Republican Party will turn out for the primary and how much of Neumann’s criticism of Walker will stick.”
Meanwhile, in the battle over one of the state’s U.S. Senate seats, businessman Ron Johnson has so far proven to be a formidable opponent for both incumbent Russ Feingold and fellow Republican candidate Dave Westlake, a success many have attributed to financial concerns.
Johnson, who is personally wealthy, entered the Senate race less than one week before the state GOP convention, but the Oshkosh businessman with no political experience won the endorsement over Westlake and Madison developer Terrence Wall, who has since dropped out of the race.
However, the Wisconsin Republican Party maintains the endorsement was not won thanks to Johnson’s hefty wallet.
“I would say it’s not about the money, it’s about the message,” said Andrew Welhouse, spokesperson for the Wisconsin Republican party.
The power of personal wealth in an election year is also not necessarily unique to one party. Johnson’s rise to prominence closely mirrors the early career of Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., who was first elected to the state Senate because of his willingness to spend millions of his own fortune on the campaign.
In contrast, the Wisconsin gubernatorial race has for the most part been a case of outside groups contributing funds for a pivotal election.
Although neither Walker nor Barrett are personally wealthy, they have both been able to raise substantial funds from independent groups and donors, according to Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause Wisconsin.