As election season heats up this week with the official launch of Gov. Scott Walker’s re-election campaign, political observers say Democrats will likely fight an uphill battle to take back the governor’s seat and the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Several experts noted Walker is currently leading his Democratic challenger, Mary Burke, in the polls. In the battle for control of the Legislature, where Republicans have a 60-39 majority in the Assembly and an 18-15 majority in the Senate, a Democratic takeover in the Assembly could also prove especially difficult.
Walker currently leads Burke 48 percent to 41 percent, according to a Marquette University Law School Poll released March 26.
Among all 99 Assembly seats and 17 Senate seats up for grabs, Democrats will need a stroke of luck to obtain enough seats to gain a majority in either chamber, Barry Burden, a University of Wisconsin political science professor, said.
“In the Assembly, I think Democrats have no chance of gaining a majority. Republicans just have such a large majority right now, that the Democrats would have to pick up a lot of seats. Republicans have about two-thirds of the seats,” Burden said. “And the districts have been drawn in a way that so strongly favor Republicans that it is hard to imagine the Democrats overcoming that anytime soon.”
The Senate is more up for grabs with two incumbent Republicans, Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, and Senate President Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, retiring, leaving those seats open for Democrats to take on a new candidate, rather than the incumbent, UW political science professor Kenneth Mayer said.
Democrats need to win three more seats than they currently have to take majority over the Senate, and while it is possible, taking back that chamber will be difficult for Democrats, Mayer said.
“Those are possible pickups for the Democrats. They’re not going to be easy, but you can envision circumstances in which they are able to pick up those seats,” he said.
Mayer and Burden agreed Republicans have a distinct edge over Democrats for a variety of reasons including district maps, restricted early voting measures and a wide financial advantage in terms of campaign spending projections.
As of the end of 2013, Republican legislators had collectively raised $3.09 million while Democrats running for re-election raised only $1.05 million, according to a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign report.
Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, said these numbers are the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of total campaign contributions that will flow into campaign election accounts by November.
“The Republicans are definitely going to be sitting on more money and [Walker] is going to have more money in the governor’s race as well,” McCabe said. “Walker has a very decided advantage already, and I don’t see him letting up with the fundraising at all; he’s continuing to be very aggressive with fundraising.”
Burden said both Democrats and Republicans will likely focus on job creation in their coming campaigns, with Republicans touting the improvements they have brought to Wisconsin’s economy.
Democrats will criticize Republicans and Walker’s administration for Wisconsin’s lagging job creation numbers and Walker’s promise to create 250,000 jobs during his term that many agree he will not reach, he said.
Burden also said issues like school accountability and mining regulations will also be raised in some races.
Mayer warned a lot can occur in the seven months before Election Day, and one should consider all predictions as probabilistic based on the information political observers currently have. There is a vast range of possible outcomes, he said.