Wisconsin’s Last Election in a Year Full of Them

Wisconsin has had quite the year for elections.

The state’s presidential primary on 3 April brought a relatively close contest between eventual Republican nominee Mitt Romney and challenger Rick Santorum to the state. Nearly 720,000 people went to the polls to vote for a Republican candidate, and 290,000 people came out to vote in the uncontested Democratic presidential primary.

A little over a month later, on 8 May, the state voted in the first phase, the statewide primary, of the historic recall elections. Milwaukee Mayor and 2010 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tom Barrett defeated a well-funded challenge from former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, as well as Democratic State Senator Kathleen Vinehout and Secretary of State Doug La Follette. In total, about 670,000 voters cast ballots in the Democratic primary, and 646,500 cast ballots in the virtually uncontested GOP primary, 97 percent of them for embattled Governor Scott Walker.

Then, on 5 June, Governor Scott Walker fended off the recall challenge from Mayor Barrett, defeating him with 1.34 million votes to Barrett’s 1.16 million. The voter turnout was 58 percent of voting-age adults, which was the highest voter turnout for a non-presidential election in sixty years. Voter turnout as a percentage of voting age adults was over 70 percent in some suburban counties around Milwaukee, and Dane County had a voter turnout of 67 percent.

But the summer would not be quiet politically, as the 14 August state primary was fast approaching. Former Governor Tommy Thompson was facing substantial challenges from businessman Eric Hovde and former U.S. Representative Mark Neumann, with Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald also running. He defeated them all in a primary contest that drew over 582,000 voters. Over 185,000 voters came out on the Democratic side. U.S. Representative Tammy Baldwin was running uncontested in the Senate primary, but State Reps. Mark Pocan and Kelda Helen Roys faced each other in the contested Second Congressional district. Pocan won the nomination.

Finally, on 6 November, the general election drew over 3 million voters to the polls, out of 3.5 million registered voters. Wisconsin had a special role in this general election, as the Republican vice presidential nominee was Wisconsin’s own Representative Paul Ryan. After a significant amount of money and energy was spent contesting Wisconsin‘s ten electoral votes, including frequent visits by all of the candidates up until election day, Wisconsin served as a key part of President Obama’s electoral firewall. Obama won the state with 53 percent to Governor Romney’s 46 percent, which was a smaller margin than he won it over John McCain by in 2008, but still much larger than the tiny margins that then-Vice President Al Gore and Senator John Kerry won the state by over George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, respectively. Representative Tammy Baldwin beat former Governor Thompson in the U.S. Senate race, 51.5 percent to 45.9 percent.

On 7 November, after a very long year of campaigning, volunteers and activists found themselves with no election immediately on the horizon. Potential voters seeking to avoid robocalls began answering the phone again. Hopefully, those Wisconsinites who love voting were able to look back with satisfaction on the banner year for the state.

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