Thursday, October 28, 2010

GOP candidates up 9 in Wisconsin

Republicans are headed for comfortable wins in Wisconsin's races for both Senator and Governor. Ron Johnson leads Russ Feingold 53-44 in the US Senate race and Scott Walker leads by an identical margin against Tom Barrett.

There are two major factors leading to the GOP's likely victory on Tuesday:

1) Wisconsin has one of the largest enthusiasm gaps of any state in the country. Although it appears Democrats will have turnout issues pretty much everywhere the problem is unusually severe in Wisconsin. Those saying they're likely to vote this fall report having voted for Barack Obama by only 3 points in 2008. He actually won the state by 14 points. This year's electorate in the state appears as though it will be very Republican friendly compared to the last few election cycles.

2) Barack Obama's popularity in Wisconsin has declined at a rate much faster than the rest of the country and the state's Democratic Governor is one of the most unpopular people holding his position anywhere in the country as well. Obama's approval with likely voters is only 37%, with 54% of voters disapproving of him. Those bad numbers are partly a function of the state's more conservative electorate this year but worrisome for the President is that only 70% of voters in the state who supported him in 2008 still approve of the job that he's doing. Meanwhile 93% of McCain voters disapprove of his performance.

Jim Doyle's numbers are even worse than Obama's. Just 27% of voters are happy with him, while 62% say they disapprove. Tom Barrett has by most accounts run a strong campaign but it's rare for a party to hold the Governor's office when its incumbent is so unpopular.

Wisconsin voters went out and picked a Democrat as Governor in 2006 and a Democrat as President. They don't seem to think those choices worked out too well for them and against that backdrop it's no surprise they're leaning in a different direction this year.

While a lot of what's going on in the state can be explained by those macro factors it would be wrong to sell the GOP's candidates, particularly Ron Johnson, short. Johnson has proven to be one of the strongest Republican Senate hopefuls anywhere in the country. 51% of voters have a favorable opinion of him to only 35% with a negative one- few folks in this political climate can match those numbers. Walker has proven to be an appealing candidate as well with 47% rating him favorably to 39% with a negative opinion.

As for Russ Feingold, he's not terribly unpopular. 44% of voters approve of him to 48% disapproving. There are Senate candidates across the country with a lot worse numbers than that who still have a very good chance at winning, and those numbers are about average across PPP's spectrum of Senate approval ratings in 2010. But the election seems to be shaping up largely as a referendum on the President. With voters who approve of Obama Feingold is ahead 94-4. With those who don't he's down 91-8. Even if Feingold had done everything perfect this cycle he would still have had a pretty tough road against that backdrop.

There are still five days left and weird things happen but Johnson and Walker look pretty solid in these races.

Full results here

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