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Thursday, Jan. 10, 2008

Will Wisconsin’s Vote Count?

Races may be undecided when primary voters make their choice

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Five weeks can be an eternity during a campaign—especially when the presidential races are as unpredictable as they are now. The candidates face more than a dozen primaries— including Feb. 5’s Super Duper Tuesday— before Wisconsin voters go to the polls on Feb. 19, and anything can happen between now and then. So we asked a handful of insiders from all parts of the political spectrum whether Wisconsin will be a player in this year’s races, or whether the parties will have already chosen their nominees at that point. Here’s what they said:

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett: “The Republican race will not be decided by [the Feb. 19 primary]. If Barack [Obama] wins New Hampshire, which I think he will, I think it looks more and more likely that he might just continue that snowball effect that he’s got. So it could be over on the Democratic side in Barack’s favor by then. If Hillary [Clinton] makes a dramatic comeback on Super Tuesday, then we’re in play.”

And if that happens, the mayor says, expect the campaigns to descend on Wisconsin by Feb. 6. Barrett was an early local supporter of Obama, and campaigned on the senator’s behalf last week in Iowa to persuade undecided voters to choose Obama.

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker: “Yes, I think Wisconsin is going to be a player this year. Now if Obama wins the next few primaries, we’ll be less of a player on the Democratic side. On the Republican side, if McCain wins New Hampshire, then we will definitely be a player. Again it is quite possible Wisconsin will be a player on both sides this year.”

Milwaukee Common Council President Willie Hines: “Wisconsin will play a role in the presidential selection. Super Tuesday will obviously play the pivotal role, along with New Hampshire and South Carolina, in narrowing the field. The two left standing will be Obama and Hillary, and given the fact that Obama has a lot of support in Wisconsin, he will have an edge over Hillary. I should be clear: I am endorsing Obama. On the Republican side, it will end up being between Huckabee and Romney, and since Huckabee can relate to the common person and the Midwesterners, he will have a definite edge over Romney, who is superwealthy.

In November, I will be rooting for Obama since I believe he has the talent and ability and he is surrounding himself with the right people. I feel that Obama is best suited to heal the nation and move it forward in the direction it needs to go.”

Bill Kraus, longtime Republican strategist, manager of campaigns for Govs. Lee Sherman Dreyfus and Warren Knowles and state chair of Richard Nixon’s campaign: “The GOP may still be in play [in February], but who cares? This isn’t 1932 for the GOP, but it’s close. The party has lost its footing and been taken over by the righteous righties who are menacing but not numerous enough to win an election. If the Dems don’t scare them off, the moderates will go with them or stay home. It would appear that the Obama steamroller may brush everyone aside before we vote. Hillary has been exposed as a paper tiger. [John] Edwards is pretty, but too much an angry man. No one else has—to use an old Wisconsin expression—drawn any wind.”

Joe Wineke, chair, Democratic Party of Wisconsin: “The races will not be decided [by Feb. 19], although there will be a clear front-runner by the time Wisconsin votes. Obama is still not winning the delegate count right now. Clinton is.” He predicted that Obama, Clinton and Edwards will live to duke it out in Wisconsin. For the Republicans, “It’s clearly muddled going into Wisconsin.” Wineke has endorsed Edwards for president.

Ed Garvey, progressive lawyer and former Democratic nominee for governor and U.S. Senate: “I doubt that the races will be competitive by the time Wisconsin votes. It’ll be Barack Obama and John McCain. What’s happening is that because the primaries are bunched together, the loser doesn’t have time to recover.” Garvey said he thinks Clinton will drop out after Super Tuesday, and that Edwards will outlast Clinton. He hasn’t endorsed any candidates, but has contributed to Dennis Kucinich, Edwards and Obama.

Jackie Boynton, Milwaukee attorney and activist, a founder of Women’s Choice: Boynton said the races would be decided before Wisconsin’s primary. “Unless something drastically changes, Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee” by mid- February. Boynton picked Romney as the last Republican standing, but said the alsorans—McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee—will still be in the race, at least nominally. Boynton has not endorsed any candidates.

Jerrel Jones, publisher of The Courier: “Hillary was the shoo-in a month ago and now Obama, if he wins a few more primaries like South Carolina, may well be unstoppable. If that occurs, then Wisconsin won’t matter much for the Democrats. If, however, we are still players in the Democratic primary, then Obama will win Wisconsin and he will win in the fall. In the Republican primary, Wisconsin will still be a player, and Huckabee will be a very strong candidate.

The same motivational, inspirational approach, albeit a very different message, that Obama is so successfully presenting to the Democrats, Huckabee is providing to the Republicans. This year voters are looking for hope and inspiration and these two candidates are providing it.”

Susan Armacost, legislative/PAC director, Wisconsin Right to Life: “I wish I had a crystal ball,” Armacost said, claiming that the races were “too fluid” to be predicted right now. When pressed further, she said, “On the Democratic side, Obama, maybe.

But I don’t know if the Republican side will be decided” by the time Wisconsin votes. Wisconsin Right to Life has endorsed Fred Thompson.

Steve Eichenbaum, founder of the ad agency Eichenbaum and Associates; mastermind of Sen. Russ Feingold’s winning ads of 1992: “In my opinion, the Democrats certainly will be decided [by mid-February]. The Republicans just don’t know what they’re going to do. They’ve got so many problems with every one of their candidates, so who knows?” Eichenbaum guessed who the nominees would be: “I still have this feeling that it’s going to be Edwards. And for the Republicans, believe it or not, I still think it’s going to be McCain.” Eichenbaum has not supported any candidate in this race.

Victor Huyke, publisher and editor of El Conquistador and former chair of Citizens for Responsible Government: “The Democrats’ race will definitely be decided by then. It’ll be Obama, and I wouldn’t be surprised if John Edwards would be his running mate.” Huyke said that the GOP slate will still be in play in mid-February, with Huckabee and Mitt Romney as the leading contenders. But he said that Milwaukee’s conservative and Republican Hispanic community is split. Romney has a good organization in the state, Huyke said, but his hardline stance on immigration is problematic, while Huckabee’s more moderate views on immigration may appeal to Hispanic voters.

But, Huyke said, “The Hispanic community votes for individuals, not the party.”

Bill Christofferson, longtime Democratic strategist: “It’s really too soon to tell whether Wisconsin’s primary will matter. The 2004 Kerry-Edwards contest was the first in a long time where our votes counted. Conventional wisdom is that we’ll know the nominee after Super Tuesday, two weeks before Wisconsin. But conventional wisdom not too long ago was that Hillary Clinton was almost a sure thing. Wherever you put your money, you get good odds.” But Republicans aren’t so lucky, Christofferson warned. “The GOP field is really untested, since they are picking and choosing where to compete. But the Iowa turnout made it clear that the Dems are a lot happier with their choices than the Republicans are with their field. A sizable number of Republicans don’t really seem to like any of them.”

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com.

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