No blues for GOP in Wisconsin

June 17, 2010


MADISON, Wis. | Until recently, Wisconsin seemed to be a Democratic strategist’s lock – a blue state getting bluer. Its two senators were well-established liberal Democrats. The governor’s office and both houses of the legislature were in Democratic hands. And President Barack Obama won the state in 2008 by 14 percentage points, one of his largest victory margins anywhere.

But something went awry on the way to the permanent Democratic hegemony.

A conservative insurgency – headed by a Republican candidate who actively courts, of all things, the “tea party” – is now making a strong bid for governor. And across the state, Democrats suddenly find themselves fighting to hold seats they once took for granted.

“Obviously, we’re all nervous about our own situations,” said state Rep. Marlin Schneider, a Democrat who has served in the state legislature since 1970 and now faces two Republican challengers and an independent. “There is a nasty mood there that has been there since the 2008 election.”

Voter disdain for those in power is being felt across the nation, including many states that have voted Democratic, such as Colorado and Nevada. But in perhaps no other is the backlash more striking than in Wisconsin.

With six months before Election Day, Republicans are pressing to claim the governor’s office for the first time since 2001, win majorities in the legislature, challenge liberal Sen. Russ Feingold with a tea party activist, and seriously contend in three of the five congressional districts held by Democrats.

The governor’s race is wide open after two-term incumbent Democrat James E. Doyle, amid sinking approval ratings and the worst state budget shortfall in Wisconsin history, decided not to seek re-election.

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