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What to Watch on Election Night in Wisconsin | Elections


Wisconsin, one of the closest states in the past two presidential elections, will play host to several pivotal races during its Aug. 9 primary.

Republican voters will choose their nominees to take on Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul, whose offices will be pivotal for determining the future of abortion policy in the state.

If a state law passed in 1849 were to be reimposed, abortion would be banned in Wisconsin without exceptions for rape and incest. Evers and Kaul have gone to court to prevent this from happening, while the leading Republican candidates have touted their anti-abortion credentials in the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade earlier this summer.

After a series of candidates dropped out late in the primary season, Wisconsin Democrats have effectively whittled down their field to determine the nominee against GOP Sen. Ron Johnson. That Senate race will be closely watched because it offers Democrats one of their best shots at unseating a Republican incumbent in an election in which control of the narrowly divided chamber will be at stake.

Several other statewide offices in Wisconsin, plus one notable House district, will see competitive primaries on Aug. 9.

Here’s a rundown of the key races on primary day.

Until the closing days of the campaign, the race for the Democratic nomination to take on Johnson included four top-tier candidates, but in the span of a couple days, three of them dropped out: Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, self-funded Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry and state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski.

That left just one candidate: Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes. In a recent debate, the leading Democrats generally focused their attacks on Johnson, rather than each other, while making the case that they are best-positioned to take on the incumbent in the fall. As the incumbent, Johnson has outraised the Democratic field combined.

Johnson, who has drawn Democratic ire for making dubious statements about the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6 and on the coronavirus, has seen his favorability ratings stuck in negative territory. The most recent Marquette Law School poll had Johnson with a 37% favorability rating, compared to 46% unfavorability. The poll had Barnes leading Johnson in a head-to-head matchup, though narrowly.

The GOP field to take on Evers includes construction executive Tim Michels, former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and state Rep. Tim Ramthun.

Former President Donald Trump has endorsed the largely self-funding Michels, who was effectively tied with Kleefisch in the same Marquette Law poll, with Ramthun well behind. Another candidate, Kevin Nicholson, will still be on the ballot even though he has dropped out of the race.

Of the three leading Republicans, Kleefisch – who has been endorsed by former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, with whom she served, as well as Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and former Vice President Mike Pence – fared best against Evers in the Marquette Law poll, but even she trailed the incumbent by 4 percentage points. Michels trailed Evers by 7 points and Ramthun trailed by 17.

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In Wisconsin, the governor and lieutenant governor are chosen in separate primaries but then run together as a ticket in the general election. The lieutenant governorship is open because Barnes is running for Senate.

The Democrats have two candidates: Peng Her, a Laotian immigrant, nonprofit founder and former restaurant owner; and state Rep. Sara Rodriguez.

The Republican field, meanwhile, features eight candidates, including state Sens. Roger Roth and Patrick Testin, pastor and conservative activist David King, former state workforce development official Will Martin, Lancaster Mayor David Varnam, Army veteran Cindy Werner, businessman Jonathan Wichmann, and entertainer Kyle Yudes. In a debate, all the Republican candidates articulated their anti-abortion credentials.

Republicans have a three-way primary to take on Kaul: former state Rep. Adam Jarchow, Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney, and attorney Karen Mueller.

While the fight over abortion has played a role in the contest, the GOP candidates have also painted Kaul and Democratic prosecutors in urban areas as being soft on crime. The Republicans have also said they would crack down on alleged voter fraud.

Jarchow is backed by the National Rifle Association and the conservative group Americans for Prosperity.

Unlike most states with a secretary of state, Wisconsin does not include election administration and oversight in that office’s portfolio. Still, the position will be aggressively contested in the fall.

The Democratic incumbent, Doug La Follette, has held the office for four decades and has usually been reelected easily, even in times of Republican dominance in the state. He has been helped not only by incumbency but also his last name: He’s a distant relative of former Wisconsin governor and senator Bob La Follette.

This year, La Follette faces a primary challenge, as well as several credible Republicans seeking to oust him.

La Follette’s primary opponent is Dane County Democratic Chair Alexia Sabor, who has said she would use the office as “a loudspeaker for democracy to educate voters and push back on attempts to undermine our elections.”

The GOP field, meanwhile, includes state Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, who has outraised both La Follette and her Republican rivals, conservative activist Justin Schmidtka and former Menasha town supervisor Jay Schroeder.

This position is open due to Godlewski’s decision to run for Senate. Both parties have contested primaries.

The Democratic primary features Angelito Tenorio, an alderman from West Allis and a son of Filipino immigrants; Aaron Richardson, the mayor of Fitchburg; and Gillian Battino, a radiologist.

The leading GOP primary candidates are Orlando Owens, a pastor and former aide to Johnson, the senator; and John Leiber, an attorney and local Republican official.

Wisconsin has eight congressional districts, but the only one in which voters will significantly shape the contest on primary day is the 3rd District, which is anchored by Eau Claire and LaCrosse in the western part of the state.

This largely small-city and rural district has a historical Democratic lean, but Republicans have been gaining in recent election cycles. Under the new lines drawn by the GOP legislature, Trump would have won the district in 2020 by a 51%-47% margin. Worse for Democrats, the incumbent, Ron Kind, is retiring.

Republicans have coalesced around one candidate: retired Navy SEAL Derrick Van Orden.

The Democrats have a four-way primary between La Crosse City Councilman Mark Neumann, state Sen. Brad Pfaff, retired CIA officer and Army veteran Deb McGrath, and businesswoman Rebecca Cooke. Given the moderate-to-conservative leanings of the district, all candidates have touted their bipartisan appeal.

In the money race, Van Orden has more than $1.9 million in the bank. Pfaff has the most in the bank of any Democrat, with more than $249,000.

Analysts say that in the general election, the seat leans to the GOP, but it should be competitive.



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