State Political and Government News: Polls now open in WisconsinWisconsin News
-- The polls are open, as the eyes of the nation watch Wisconsin and a handful of other presidential battlegrounds.
The polls are open, as the eyes of the nation watch Wisconsin and a handful of other presidential battlegrounds.
Ohio was considered by many to be the most crucial in state in play. And if Republican Mitt Romney takes Ohio tonight, some observers believe the race could come down to Wisconsin. Republicans have not carried the Badger State since 1984, when Ronald Reagan won his second term in the White House. Democrats believe President Obama has nailed down Wisconsin again, after winning the state by 14 points last time. But the GOP has put on a full-court press with native son Paul Ryan of Janesville as Romney’s running mate. They also hope that former Governor Tommy Thompson continues to show his popularity-of-old in a tight race with Democrat Tammy Baldwin. Today, Wisconsinites will not have to show photo ID’s to vote, as the result of two judicial rulings which Republicans continue to challenge. But voters must still sign log books. And those who register at the polls must prove that they’ve lived at their present addresses for 28 days. Also, Republicans ended voters’ ability to choose a straight party. They must vote for all races individually. The Wisconsin polls close at eight tonight.
Wisconsin will elect at least one new U.S. House member today. Veteran state Assembly Democrat Mark Pocan of Madison faces Republican businessman Chad Lee for the Madison area House seat that’s been held by Democrats for decades – and is given up by Senate hopeful Tammy Baldwin. First-term House Republicans Sean Duffy in northern Wisconsin and Reid Ribble in the northeast have had strong challenges from Democrats. And Republican Paul Ryan is running for both vice president and his long-time U.S. House post. If Ryan moves to the White House, voters will choose a replacement later on – that is, if Democrat Rob Zerban doesn’t pull off an upset today. Meanwhile, Republicans hope to regain control of the full Wisconsin Legislature, and continue their conservative agenda with relative ease. Democrats control the Senate by one vote – and Republicans would have to gain two seats to take the power back. Observers say it could all come down to a Fox Valley Senate race between Democrat Jessica King, who was elected just a year ago in a recall election, and Republican Rick Gudex of Fond du Lac. The GOP has a 20-vote majority in the 99-member Assembly, and it’s expected to keep that. Numerous county offices are also up today, as well as almost 30 school referendums in the Badger State. The biggest is a $60-million-dollar project in the Middleton-Cross Plains district for additions and renovations to two middle schools.
We won’t know until after today’s election how many Wisconsinites received absentee ballots and voted early. The state Government Accountability Board said yesterday that 545-thousand absentee ballots were requested – but that does not necessarily include all the ballots that Wisconsin residents requested by mail. Only military and overseas ballots are required to be tracked by the state’s registration system, so the final numbers could be much higher once all the paperwork is in. We do know that 392,000 people voted early in local clerks’ offices by last Friday’s deadline. Almost one-of-every-10 of those early votes was cast in Milwaukee. If you received an absentee ballot by mail, and you still have it, you must mail it back today – and it must arrive at your local clerk’s office by the end of Friday or else it won’t count. In the last presidential election four years ago, almost 634,000 absentee ballots were cast. Officials said about one-of-every-five Wisconsin voters cast their ballots early that year.
Federal and state authorities will monitor today’s activity at the polls – along with political parties, partisan groups, and private watchdogs. They’ll all be on the lookout for possible irregularities or voter fraud. Some poll watchers displayed aggressive behavior during the Walker recall voting this summer – so state elections’ officials required that observers stand at least six-feet away from poll workers. In Milwaukee, there will be designated areas for observers at each polling place. And when they get full, Election Commission chairman Neil Albrecht says that’s it. In the recall elections, Republicans complained that poll workers did not get acceptable proof-of-residency for some who registered at the polls – while the League of Women Voters said some voters were illegally turned away because of disputes over the residency requirements. The state Government Accountability Board conducted training in the hopes that those problems won’t re-surface today. The Board also set up a Web site for voters who have questions on matters like this. It has a plethora of voter information, and you can find it at MyVote.wi.gov.
Just over three-million Wisconsinites could end up deciding the presidential race today. State election officials expect at least 70-percent of voting-age adults to turn out. The Associated Press is the only one of several news organizations which estimates that Democratic President Barack Obama has enough electoral votes to win a second term. Other outlets call it a toss-up with Republican Mitt Romney – and the Badger State is among the very few where the outcome is still up in the air. Wisconsin could also end up deciding which party gets control of the United States Senate. Republican Tommy Thompson and Democrat Tammy Baldwin are neck-and-neck in what observers call one of the most negative Senate races in the country – thanks in part to the nation’s second-highest amount of special interest money that was pumped into TV ads and phone calls. Voters will choose at least one new U.S. House member today. That’s in the Madison area, where Baldwin gave up her House seat to run for the Senate. Freshman Republicans Sean Duffy of Weston and Reid Ribble of Sherwood appear to have the biggest challenges as they go for their second terms. GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan of Janesville is also running for his current U.S. House seat against Democrat Rob Zerban. Control of the Wisconsin Legislature is also up for grabs. The Assembly is expected to stay Republican, but one-or-two swing contests may-or-may not keep the Senate in Democratic hands. There are also numerous races for Wisconsin county offices – plus almost 30 school referendums around the Badger State. All polls open at seven this morning, and close at eight tonight.
Republican Paul Ryan had the last word among the major White House candidates on Wisconsin soil, when he spoke at an airport rally in Milwaukee late last night. The vice-presidential nominee from Janesville capped off an intense two-month period in which he, Mitt Romney, President Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden criss-crossed the Badger State. Ryan told a packed house of supporters in a chilly airport hangar that Wisconsinites elect leaders to keep their promises – and he said President Obama has not done that. Ryan said millions would go back to work under Mitt Romney’s five-point plan to boost the economy. And as the crowd cheered, Ryan yelled, “We’re going to do this.” If he and Romney carry Wisconsin, it would be a first for the Republicans since 1984 – but some years, it’s been extremely close. Democrat John Kerry took Wisconsin by just four-tenths-of-a-percent over incumbent George W. Bush in 2004. It was no contest four years ago, as Obama carried the Badger State by 14 points. Obama and rock star Bruce Springsteen campaigned in Madison yesterday to a cheering crowd of almost 20,000. And last night in the Capital City, folk legend Bob Dylan predicted that Obama would win by a landslide. He made the prediction midway through his 1960’s hit “Blowin’ In the Wind,” and the audience roared.
Almost 30 Wisconsin school districts will hold referendums tomorrow. The biggest is in the Middleton-Cross Plains district, where voters will be asked to approve $60-million for additions and renovations to a pair of middle schools. The Milwaukee suburb of Franklin has three referendum questions totaling $49-million-dollars. The proposals include a two-story addition to Franklin High School, additional space for art and music instruction and a new auditorium, plus a new gym for the middle school. In the Green Bay area, Pulaski voters are being asked to approve $33-million dollars for various school renovations and technology upgrades – plus a new athletic complex. Antigo school voters will decide the fate of a new $26-million-dollar elementary school, including extra operating costs. Lake Mills proposed almost $19-million to replace an elementary school. And East Troy has a $17-million dollar referendum for high school renovations. A number of school districts will ask voters to exceed their state-mandated taxing limits. Marshfield is asking for the most – two-and-a-half million dollars a year for four years.
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tommy Thompson was campaigning around the state with Governor Scott Walker today – while Thompson’s opponent Tammy Baldwin hitched her political wagon to President Obama. Baldwin spoke to almost 20,000 people at the president’s rally in Madison that featured Bruce Springsteen. Baldwin said her race gives voters two very different visions for America. She says she’ll fight for the middle class, while Thompson would cater to the special interests. Most recent independent polls either have the race tied, or they give Baldwin a very slight lead. Thompson said the polls don’t capture the enthusiasm Republicans are getting this fall. He said the race comes down to leadership – and Walker said Thompson has the better record for balancing budgets and getting things done. Both Republicans also said the momentum from the governor’s recall election – which Walker won by seven points in June – would carry over tomorrow. Walker said the recall supporters quote, “woke a sleeping giant.” Thompson said one of his campaign cars hit a deer near Shawano yesterday – and the former governor joked that he got his deer before the gun season begins.
President Obama said in Madison yesterday that America is stronger when everyone can count on health insurance, Social Security, and Medicare. And he told 20,000 of his supporters that the powerful interests backed by Republicans are counting on them to be so tired of the campaign that they’ll stay home tomorrow. The Democrat Obama told the crowd, quote, “Their bets on cynicism – well, Wisconsin, my bet’s on you.” Rock legend Bruce Springsteen sang four numbers as he introduced the president. And “The Boss” joked that Obama’s first debate with Republican Mitt Romney quote, “really freaked me out.” That was the debate that even his supporters said he lost because he wasn’t aggressive enough in challenging Romney – something he turned around in his last two debates. Meanwhile, in Virginia today, Romney said he could more to lift the nation out of the hard economic times that dominated Obama’s term. In Romney’s words, “This nation is going to begin to change for the better tomorrow.”
Election Day could be a snowy day in the northern half of Wisconsin. The National Weather Service says grassy areas could get about an inch, in what would be the first measurable snow of the season. Southern Wisconsin expects mostly rain – but even Milwaukee has a little light snow in its forecast for this morning. If you’re wondering who benefits, it’s apparently the Republicans. According to a poll by the Weather Channel in August, 35-percent of undecided Americans said bad weather could keep them from voting – while 27-percent of Democrats and only 20-percent of Republicans felt that way. It might be a little different in Wisconsin, though, where people take pride in not letting a little snow stop them. UW-Milwaukee analyst and former state senator Mordecai Lee says senior citizens would quote, “vote in a hurricane, even if there was only a dog-catcher on the ballot.” But Marquette University professor John McAdams says any Election Day weather effect is dampened by the 20-percent of state residents who vote early. A Marquette Law School poll from last week showed that Democrats got the majority of early votes in both the presidential and U.S. Senate races in Wisconsin. By the way, the rain-and-snow are supposed to end when the confetti runs out at tonight’s election parties. Clear skies are predicted on the day after the elections, with highs in the 30’s-and-40’s.