The first sign that Wisconsin had changed from solidly liberal to rife with Republican rivalry was when three-term incumbent Sen. Russ Feingold, a nationally respected progressive Democrat, was shockingly defeated in his 2010 reelection bid by Tea Party-affiliated, Libertarian-leaning Republican Ron Johnson, a political neophyte.
Also elected to Wisconsin office in 2010 was Tea Party gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker. Mere weeks after Gov. Walker, the son of a Baptist preacher, took office in January 2011, he pushed the newly conservative Wisconsin legislature to pass severe budget-cutting bills that also sharply curtailed basic labor union rights.
And Wisconsin progressives... who apparently took their state domination for granted in 2010 elections... reawakened with a ferocious political roar. A recall election for prickly Gov. Walker will be held on June 5, 2012, after more than 900,000 citizens petitioned to dump him from the state capitol. Recall of Walker was spearheaded by a passionate coalition of infuriated Wisconsinites, including:
- Labor union members, including teachers, police officers, and firefighters. 422,000 Wisconsin workers, representing 16% all workers in the state, belong to labor unions.
- Women, who comprise 50.4% of Wisconsin's population.
- Senior citizens, who comprise 13.7% of Wisconsin's population.
Wisconsin is unique among 2012 presidential battleground states, though, for two reasons.
In 2012, Can Obama Win Wisconsin Again?
Wisconsin voters are largely white (86% per 2010 Census), and Christian (80%). Among state residents, only 5.9% are of Hispanic heritage, and only 6% are African-Americans.
Most hotly contested 2012 battleground states host an amalgam of ethnic heritages and religious faiths. Think Florida, with its highly diverse and active voter base, for example, or North Carolina, with its uneasy blend of religious conservatives and a sizable African-American population.
In 2008, Barack Obama won only 43% of the white vote nationally, but won 54% of Wisconsin's white vote, which represented 89% of all Wisconsin ballots. Can Obama win Wisconsin again in 2012, after the new rise of Badger State Republicans?
Will Wisconsin Republicans Continue to be Led by Extremists?
Have Wisconsin Republicans learned lessons from the failure of Gov. Scott Walker's ultra-conservative ideology and his stubbornly tin-ear to the Wisconsin electorate? Or will Wisconsin Republicans continue to be dominated by Tea Party extremists?
If socially conservative, Tea-Partiers continue to lead Wisconsin Republicans, then extremist Rick Santorum should fare well in tomorrow's presidential primary election. The Obama White House would be delighted, of course.
But, if, as polls predict, more moderate Mitt Romney easily prevails in Wisconsin's presidential primary race, then Obama's reelection campaign team should be forewarned about 2012: Wisconsin Republicans have backed away from political extremism, and are ready to support a more moderate candidate with a bona-fide chance to beat President Obama.
Historically Democratic blue-state Wisconsin stunned the nation in 2010 by not reelecting deeply respected Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold.
A big primary victory by moderate Republican Mitt Romney over Tea Party-aficionado Rick Santorum in Wisconsin will send a warning shot to the White House that must-win Wisconsin might vote Republican in 2012 for the first time since 1984.
In 2011, a top pollster reported Wisconsin's approval for President Obama at 47.4%, and his disapproval rating at 43.8%. To win Wisconsin over a moderate Republican, Obama will need to raise his approval ratings in 2012.