Following several months of slow-but-steady improvements for the Democratic effort to retain control of the Senate, Republicans said Wednesday that Walker’s seven-point margin of victory served notice that any of their potential nominees could defeat Rep. Tammy Baldwin, the likely Democratic nominee and the only openly lesbian member of the House.
“That strong a victory does take some of the wind out of the sails of Democrats,” said Sen. Ronald H. Johnson (Wis.), whose 2010 victory over a three-term incumbent gave the state its first GOP senator in 20 years.
Democrats were quick to reject this analysis, saying that the recall election was unique. More critical, Senate Democrats said, was President Obama’s strong standing among the Wisconsin electorate in exit polling.
“It’s an extremely different race,” said Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, predicting that Baldwin’s record of fighting corporate interests would sell in the general election.
Independent political analysts tended to dismiss both sides as overreacting, suggesting that Tuesday’s results confirmed something that was already evident: that the Senate race in Wisconsin will be close.
“It is worth watching the Democratic base to see whether they go into November demoralized, or whether they rally for the president, Tammy Baldwin and Democratic House candidates,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of the Cook Political Report.
That this Senate seat is such a battleground is a bit illogical. For 24 years, Sen. Herb Kohl (D), an heir to the Kohl’s department store chain and owner of the National Basketball Association’s Milwaukee Bucks, was an untouchable political figure who never faced a difficult reelection challenge. From 1957 until Kohl’s 1988 election, the legendary William Proxmire (D) held the seat — so comfortably that he refused to raise money for his last two reelection bids.
When Kohl, 77, announced his intention to retire at the end of this year, Wisconsin faced its first Senate race without an incumbent since Proxmire’s retirement.
Republicans believe they have a strong shot at claiming the seats of two other retiring Democrats, Sens. Kent Conrad (N.D.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.), while another incumbent, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), faces a difficult reelection effort.
That would leave them just one seat shy of the majority. However, Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) announced her retirement from a seat that is now likely to tip toward Democrats, and two other Republican incumbents, Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.) and Dean Heller (Nev.), are facing tough reelection battles.