Despite GOP Redistricting Advantage, Many State Legislative Seats Are Contested

Jul 1, 2014

Both political parties are staging huge get-out-the-vote efforts for the fall elections.

Wisconsin recently set its ballots for this fall’s elections. All 99 Assembly seats are up; so is half the state Senate.

When the Republican majority redrew the state’s political boundaries in 2011, it virtually assured GOP control of both chambers of the legislature.

The maps seemed to solidify districts as either Republican or Democrat, with few toss-ups. Yet, the parties don’t seem to be taking many races for granted.

Generally, JR Ross says, this should be a good year for Republicans. Ross is editor of, and has viewed trends.

“You’ve got the sixth year of President Obama’s term. Traditionally speaking, that’s a bad election for the party of the incumbent in the White House. That would mean a bad year for Democrats,” Ross says.

State Sen. Paul Farrow is shaking hands at a church festival in his district, in Pewaukee. He’s one candidate who’s supposed to breeze through re-election this year – a Republican in Waukesha County. At least 70 percent of its voters choose GOP candidates.

“I never consider any race to be a cakewalk. I don’t care what the percentages are. Percentages don’t mean anything, it’s actual people voting. We need to get to as many people as possible and let them know where I stand and what my beliefs are,” Farrow says.

Farrow says another incentive for encouraging people to vote on Election Day, is the governor’s race. Incumbent Republican Scott Walker is locked in a dead heat with Democratic challenger Mary Burke, according to a recent state poll.  So Farrow says that race gives his party’s candidates extra incentive to knock on doors and distribute yard signs.

The same goes on the Democratic side.  The Democrat challenging Farrow in November is Sherryll Shaddock of Nashotah. She’s attending a rally at party headquarters in downtown Waukesha and will soon head out to knock on doors. Shaddock knows she has an uphill battle for state Senate.

“I’d like to win. Obviously, if I can’t win, I would like to at least draw Democrats out to vote to support Mary Burke, who’s a wonderful candidate for governor. I think it’s important to put one foot in front of the other and do the right thing as best I can, and I don’t control the results but, stranger things have happened,” Shaddock says.

Shaddock had been a longtime volunteer for the Democratic Party of Waukesha County, and she says, when party leaders asked her to run against Farrow, she agreed.  Both parties adopt the challenge strategy – even when a race is considered a shoo-in, according to UW-La Crosse Political Scientist Joe Heim. He says competitors keep the incumbent candidates busy.

“If there’s no opponent to an incumbent who’s relatively safe, that individual is likely to go out and help raise money for somebody else, help campaign for somebody else in the state and move around, so this tends to keep them at home a little bit more and essentially defend their own seat,” Heim says.

Heim predicts redistricting will ensure GOP majorities in the Assembly and Senate for the next two years. But he and wispolitics Editor JR Ross expect a few Senate races to be competitive. They include the seats vacated by Sens. Mike Ellis of Neenah and Dale Schultz of Richland Center.