Primary Election: August 14th, 2018
RCP Ranking: Likely Dem
----------PAST KEY RACES----------
2016: President | Senate | WI-8
2014: Governor | WI-6 | WI-7
2012: President | Governor (Recall) | Senate | WI-7 | WI-8
2010: Governor | Senate | WI-3 | WI-7 | WI-8
2008: President | WI-8
2006: Governor | WI-8
2004: President | Senate
For most of its history, the political tradition in the Badger State was neither Republican nor Democrat: It was Progressive. There was no Democratic Party to speak of, so the only question was whether voters would elect a progressive Republican or a progressive Progressive.
But as the Democratic Party blossomed in the state during the 1940s and '50s, that progressive impulse became housed in the Democratic Party, and the Republican Party became more conservative. Today the state is split, much like other upper Midwestern states. A solid liberal base exists in Milwaukee and in Dane County (Madison), while the Milwaukee suburbs provide a large base for the Republican Party. The blue-collar areas around Green Bay and St. Croix provide most of the swing vote for the state.
Since the 1990s, the state has settled a point or two to the left of the country's center. 2008 was a banner year for Wisconsin Democrats, as Barack Obama won there by 14 points. But two years later the pendulum swung back, and Republicans swept the state legislature while winning the governorship and defeating liberal icon Russ Feingold. Of course, the pendulum seems to have swung back a bit toward the Democrats, who gained control of the state Senate during the recall elections.
So when Herb Kohl announced that he would retire, it set off what has become one of the Republicans' premier pickup opportunities. They nominated popular former Gov. Tommy Thompson, while Democrats nominated Rep. Tammy Baldwin. Baldwin is probably too far to the left of what has become a swing state, but Thompson was 24 years older than when he won his first election, and his style contrasted unfavorably with Baldwin's energy. He lost by a surprisingly large margin. The state has been drifting rightward for several decades now, but it remains to be seen whether state Sen. Leah Vukmir can make the race against Baldwin competitive.