Tuesday, September 21, 2010

This election year, Wisconsin matters -- for real

At the end of this month, President Barack Obama is set to make another visit to the Badger State. A week after his appearance, Vice President Joe Biden will also be coming to Wisconsin to host a fundraiser for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democratic nominee for governor. Obama was last in Wisconsin for Milwaukee's Labor Fest on Labor Day to unveil his latest economic plans.

With so many stops to one state, one has to wonder: are we really that important to the president? Do we really deserve to be spotlighted this much? Wisconsin represents a small proportion of the nation overall -- our population represents less than 2 percent of the United States' totals. The number of electoral votes that our state holds -- the key to winning the White House a second time for Obama -- is also less than stellar when compared to the rest of the country.

Despite these facts about our political insignificance, Wisconsin does indeed matter this year. We have high-profile gubernatorial and senatorial races. The Senate race in particular could affect the nation at-large in a significant way: if Russ Feingold is one of just a handful of Democratic Senators to lose their seats, it could spell disaster for Obama, who might have to work with a Republican-led Congress in 2011.

In addition to those races are the competitive match-ups in two of Wisconsin's northern Congressional districts, one held by current Democrat Dr. Steve Kagan, the other an open race for retiring Democratic Rep. Dave Obey, who has held the seat for four decades. Ron Kind's Congressional seat to the west is also competitive this year.

Besides these important races, Wisconsin may also be important for another reason: it's highly representative of the nation as a whole. In 2006, Wisconsin was named the most representative state in the country, coming "closer than any other to state-by-state averages on 12 key measures," including "four that measure race and ethnicity, four that look at income and education, and four that describe the typical neighborhood in each state."

We're a "purple" state, one that has both Republican and Democratic strongholds. We have both religious zealots, a strong atheist/agnostic population, but mostly tolerant people from a variety of belief structures. We have big urban centers and small rural farming towns. In short, our state is much like a shrunken-down version of the United States. In politics, a common phrase often thrown out during presidential election years is, "As Ohio goes, so goes the nation." It's possible that, in this midterm election year, Wisconsin might be the key to victory.

National political organizations are eyeing up Wisconsin. The Democratic Governors Association has listed the state as a "top ten target." Celebrities are taking part in political advertisements for Democrat Russ Feingold -- while some of the candidates themselves on the GOP side (for local and national office) are also celebrities.

Then there's the money. Campaign spending is already up in Wisconsin, and all indications are that it's going to go even higher, breaking records for midterm election years. Milwaukee has already seen $3.8 million in campaign ads alone. Ron Johnson, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, has said he may use up to $15 million of his own cash to win Feingold's seat. In response, Feingold raised nearly half a million dollars in a single day from over 15,000 supporters.

And both Scott Walker (the Republican nominee for governor) and Tom Barrett have raised over $10 million dollars already, with two months left until election day -- but they've already spent almost four-fifths of it, which means there will be more fundraising and more spending coming.

All of this attention comes with a big concession -- by November, we're all going to be sick and tired of it. Campaign commercials are bad enough on their own. By all accounts, the mud will be slung harder than ever this year.

But with all of that aside, it's a bit humbling to consider that our larger-than-some-but-still-kinda-small state means so much to the national picture. We as a state have a big opportunity to really shift the national dialogue, to take part in the ever-changing political landscape, and to shape it to own our wants and desires. From the farmers who see the need to assist those that help feed America, to the small-business entrepreneurialist that wants bigger tax incentives to help get himself or herself off their feet, to the single mother in downtown Madison who is concerned with how she will pay for her son's medical expenses...we all have a historic chance to tell those in Washington what we want, what we need, and what we need to get rid of.

We ought to embrace this opportunity rather than scoff it off. So while some might see this election year as just another annoyance, take this time to really understand the issues, involve yourself in some intelligent debate with your neighbors, and make an informed decision at the polls come November. I guarantee, no matter the outcome, Wisconsin can't fail if her citizens are engaged.

It's time we show the nation just how important we cheeseheads really are.

1 comment:

  1. I've been educating myself on these candidates the last few weeks and I am finding myself in a pickle. I like things from both parties and one of my biggest questions is how are we doing in Iraq? I want to know the truth about how important it is to either keep troops there or send 'em home. I'm against Obama's medical reform, but I do like all of the other things that he is making happen. Feingold could be good, but I fear the worst when it comes to healthcare.