You Call These Elections?

Posted on 09/04/2012

posted by Mike McCabe @ 11:20 AM

Even before the smoking guns were found, it was obvious that Wisconsin Republicans took full advantage of the redistricting process last year and drew new district maps designed to tilt the electoral scales in their favor.

The biggest losers, however, are not the Democrats. That distinction belongs to the voters.

This becomes clear when you look at the votes by legislative district in the 2008 election for president and the 2010 election for governor – one a strong Democratic year, the other a big year for Republicans.

Based on voting patterns from those two years, only four of the 33 new senate districts are purple; that is, true battlegrounds where elections could go either way. Nine are either light red or blue, meaning they either clearly lean Republican or show a tendency to favor the Democrats. The other 20 are bright red or vivid blue. Solidly Republican or solidly Democratic.

Of the 99 districts in the Assembly, the 2008 and 2010 election results show that 12 of the new districts qualify as toss ups. Another 21 lean Republican or lean Democratic, with 17 of the leaners on the Republican side compared to just four for the Democrats. The remaining 66 assembly districts are solid for one party or the other.

There are 33 districts (28 assembly and five senate) where there is a major-party candidate who will go unchallenged in the November election. Voters literally won’t have a choice and the outcomes of those elections are obviously foregone conclusions. But in the vast majority of the other districts, the choice voters will have looks to be an empty one, especially when you look at how the financial competitiveness of the races are shaping up in addition to the effects of redistricting.

There are only five races (four assembly and one senate) where the worst-funded candidate has at least 70% of what the best-funded candidate in the race has. Interestingly, only one of the races where there are competitive cash balances at this point in the election season is in a district that qualifies as a toss-up based on 2008 and 2010 election outcomes. That’s in central Wisconsin’s 72nd Assembly District, where the incumbent Republican legislator has about a $5,000 fundraising edge over his Democratic challenger so far.

The assembly’s 37th district is an open seat and both parties’ candidates have about the same amount of money so far, with about a $500 edge to the Democrat. But based on the 2008 presidential election and the 2010 election for governor, the 37th rates as a solidly Republican district. The 43rd district race pits two incumbents who were drawn into the same district under the new maps. The Republican has raised close to $11,000 more so far than the Democrat, but the district went for Obama for president in 2008 and Tom Barrett for governor in 2010. The 86th district is an open seat that clearly leans Republican.

The only senate race that is close financially so far is in the 18th district surrounding the southern part of Lake Winnebago where the Democrat has raised more than $80,000 so far, with her Republican opponent collecting about three-quarters of that amount. The 18th leans Republican, however, going for Obama by a whisker in 2008 but Walker by a wide margin in 2010.

When you look at both how the districts are drawn and how the money is stacking up, there are precious few races that look to be competitive this fall. The combined effect of redistricting and fundraising makes voters virtually powerless in almost all districts.

Not a pretty picture. And not the way democracy is supposed to work.

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