In the Republican matchup between Milwaukee County
Executive Scott Walker and former Congressman Mark Neumann, the map shows
Neumann winning 60% of the counties (42 to 29, with incomplete results from Menominee County).
Visually, a huge swath across most of the state went
for Neumann, with Walker’s
support concentrated in the lower southeast corner of the state, where he is
best known, and, curiously, three counties on the far northwestern tip.
defeated Neumann by a 20-point margin, 59% to 39%. Clearly, some parts of the
state count more than others.
That’s because they contain a lot more voters. Walker’s vote over Neumann in the southeastern Wisconsin
counties of Milwaukee, Waukesha,
Washington, Ozaukee and Racine accounted for his entire winning
margin of about 122,000 votes.
For anyone curious about the effect of both parties
nominating Milwaukee candidates for governor—Walker for the Republicans and
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett for the Democrats—it sure looks like the entire
election could be decided by a small number of urban and suburban counties,
with the rest of the state on the sidelines.
It’s always dangerous attempting to translate
primary results in one party to the general election. Although a state election
official predicted a near record primary vote of 28%, the turnout actually was
only about 19% of eligible voters.
A GOP Enthusiasm Gap?
Some Democrats anguished because far more
Republicans voted, but there were no primary challenges for major offices to
draw Democrats to the polls.
The lower-than-expected turnout probably was more
worrisome for Republicans, suggesting media claims about giddy Republican
enthusiasm are grossly overblown. Only about 14% of the voting population voted
in the Republican primary.
A normal November turnout of 50% to 60% of eligible
voters could vote very differently. In other Republican primaries, we’ve
already seen extreme right-wing tea party voters distorting results by
nominating goofy candidates railing against masturbation or longing to repeal Social
Neumann’s attempt to hop the tea party express by
as one of those hated “career politicians” didn’t work. But what should we make
of Republicans in a substantial majority of counties around the state voting
Since both Neumann and Walker are conservatives, do
those votes now automatically go to Walker?
Or is there a possibility those were protest votes against establishment
politicians or even anti-Milwaukee votes?
If either of the latter two possibilities proves to
be true, then Republicans could have an enthusiasm gap of their own.
But will that really matter if the final election,
like the primary, is decided in the most populous counties of the state?
Certainly, a big-city mayor might have a better chance of getting elected
governor if the election is fought in a handful of urban counties.
On the other hand, Barrett probably muddled the
margin a Democratic candidate ordinarily would expect to take out of Milwaukee County, the most vote-rich urban area of
the state, with his unsuccessful attempt to take over Milwaukee Public Schools.
That ill-timed, ill-fated effort came when the
Milwaukee School Board was finally united behind Michael Bonds, an
African-American professor in the UW-Milwaukee School of Education. The board
was in the process of recruiting Gregory Thornton, a highly qualified
African-American urban educator, as superintendent.
Many in Milwaukee’s
black community resented what they saw as a power grab by white politicians at
a time when well-qualified African Americans were finally getting an
opportunity to address the shortcomings of MPS for black children.
As a result, some of the community activists who
worked hardest to get out the black vote for Democrats in the past are taking a
pass on this election even though Walker is no friend of communities in need.
The bizarre Milwaukee
matchup for governor puts media pre-election analysis in uncharted territory.
The clichés of the past about the urban Democratic vote vs. Republicans outstate
The political trend that transformed Wisconsin in recent
presidential elections from a battleground state to a solid Democratic state
has been the growing Democratic vote in suburbs and small towns.
In 2008, President Obama got 56% of the vote,
winning 59 of 72 counties, including rural and suburban counties as well as
Republicans and their media cheerleaders say Obama
was an extraordinary candidate in an extraordinary year. They claim Republicans
have excitement on their side this year.
But they have to try to generate that excitement with a gubernatorial candidate who was the second choice of Republicans across most of the state.