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Primary Preview: Wisconsinites have sights set on another election

By Luke Freedman in Sydney, Australia

3 April 2012


Wisconsin protest

Tomorrow, 98 delegates are up for grabs as voters in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Wisconsin head to the polls. However, there has been relatively little attention paid to these states. In fact, none of Monday’s headlines on Real Clear Politics specifically mention tomorrow’s primaries. Part of this has to do with the intense focus on Obamacare in the wake of last week’s Supreme Court oral arguments. The large issue, though, is a growing acceptance amongst both Republicans and the media that Mitt Romney will be the nominee. The declining interest in the primaries illustrates the incentive for states to move their elections earlier in the year. Sure, these states will be stripped of some delegates by the national Republican Party, but better that then hold your primary so late in the calendar that the outcome of the race is already all but decided.

Romney is a lock to win both Maryland and D.C. The Terrapin State is decidedly blue and quite wealthy, characteristics that favour the “Massachusetts moderate.” It’s also no surprise that Romney is slated to do well in the nation’s capital, where political insiders far outnumber Tea Partiers.

Wisconsin’s is a bit less cut and dried. Several weeks ago, Santorum lead in most polls. However, Romney has come roaring back, and now holds an eight point lead in the state. But what’s most interesting about Wisconsin is how uninterested its citizens are in tomorrow’s primary. It’s not that they don’t care about politics; it’s that Wisconsinites' primary concern is the gubernatorial recall election on 5 June.

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In February 2011, Republican Governor Scott Walker introduced the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill as a means of addressing the large state budget deficit. The Bill cut benefits for government employees and, most controversially, limited their collective bargaining rights to wage issues. The bill set off a firestorm. Democratic lawmakers left the state in order to prevent the Republican legislature from having the quorum needed to pass the legislation. Over 100 000 protestors flooded the capitol city of Madison in response to what they saw as an inexcusable infringement of worker’s rights. 

The bill eventually passed, but the controversy has not subsided. Opponents gathered the signatures necessary to force recall elections for six Wisconsin legislators including Governor Scott Walker. The Wisconsin Republican Party “as a whole is more united behind Scott Walker than it’s been for anything it’s ever done” said Mark Graul, a veteran member of the state GOP. This solidarity has led most Republican legislators to fall in line behind the frontrunner and establishment favourite Romney. It appears that key figures in the party don’t see much point in wasting time or opening up party divisions by publicly voicing support for the other candidates.

However, there might be one silver lining for Santorum. Nate Silver points out that the lack of interest in the presidential primary may very well lead to low turnouts, and the fewer people that show up the larger the chance of a result that defies the polls. This coupled with the fact that Santorum has previously outperformed his polling numbers on Election Day, means that he still holds a (very) small chance of upsetting Romney tomorrow.

Finally, here’s a song for the primaries. This is Holocene off the 2011 self-titled album from Eau Claire, Wisconsin natives Bon Iver.

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