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With GOP supermajority on the line, Dems spend big on incumbents in vulnerable districts
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ELECTION 2020 | LEGISLATURE

With GOP supermajority on the line, Dems spend big on incumbents in vulnerable districts

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The state Democratic Party has made major investments in incumbent Democrats hoping to hold off Republicans from securing a veto-proof majority in the Wisconsin Legislature this fall.

State campaign finance reports filed with the Wisconsin Ethics Commission show the Democratic Party of Wisconsin raised more than $7.5 million during the past three months, compared with about $728,000 raised by the state Republican Party over the same time span.

The state Democratic Party, along with Democratic committees in the Senate and Assembly, contributed more than $220,000 to Democratic candidates in five of the six seats deemed vulnerable by state Republicans.

Four of those candidates are incumbent Democrats in what party officials on both sides of the aisle consider highly contested seats this fall. The fifth is Brad Pfaff, who served as Gov. Tony Evers’ secretary of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection until being abruptly ousted in November by Senate Republicans.

“Looking at the maps and figuring out the best way to hold on to what we have right now and even pick up a couple of seats — that’s what’s paramount to the Democratic Party,” state party spokesman Phil Shulman said. “And making sure that Gov. Evers still has the power of the veto.”

Finance reports filed Wednesday cover campaign donations and spending for the first six months of 2020.

Andrew Hitt, chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, in a statement accused Democrats of relying on millions of out-of-state dollars — including $2.5 million from Democratic Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

“Wisconsin Democrats are moving further away from the Midwestern values that Wisconsinites hold dear and are cozying up to out-of-state liberals and their cash,” Hitt said in a statement.

Earlier this week, Hitt responded to the Democrats’ second-quarter fundraising haul with a plea for donations.

“Our ground game and data are far superior to the Democrats, but this is further proof that Wisconsin will determine who sits in the White House in 2021,” Hitt said in a statement. “This is the epicenter of the 2020 race, and conservative donors across the country need to put resources towards the Republican Party of Wisconsin.”

Shulman, who dismissed Hitt’s comments, said the fundraising results show a growing momentum behind the Democratic Party. Shulman said the party has raised more than $10 million in the second quarter of 2020 between state and federal accounts.

“We raised a lot and Republicans raised very little,” Shulman said. “I think the enthusiasm gap is remarkable, and people are continuing to be excited about electing Democrats. This clearly is showing signs that Republicans are in a pretty bad spot.”

Vulnerable districts

Republicans would have to flip three seats in both the Assembly and Senate to achieve two-thirds majorities in both chambers.

Officials with the Republican Party of Wisconsin have said they’ve put up strong candidates in those highly contested districts, while the state Democratic party earlier this year launched a “Save the Veto” campaign with the goal of holding all their seats and preventing Republicans from reaching a supermajority.

Veto-proof majorities would give Republicans in the state Legislature a significant edge over Evers during next year’s redrawing of legislative district maps. Gerrymandered districts created by Republicans 10 years ago have contributed to the party’s decade-long majority in both chambers.

In the Assembly, Republicans look to take back the 14th District, which Robyn Vining, D-Wauwatosa, won by less than a percentage point in 2018. Republicans also said the Assembly’s 74th and 94th districts provide other possible gains.

In the Senate, the seats of departing Democrats Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, and former Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, also provide opportunities to flip Republican this fall.

In 2016, Hansen beat GOP challenger Eric Wimberger by less than 3 percentage points, and Shilling edged Republican Dan Kapanke by only 61 votes.

The 10th Senate District, which Sen. Patty Schachtner, D-Somerset, won by more than 2,000 votes in a 2018 special election, provides another possible gain for Republicans.

Both Wimberger and Kapanke are running again, in the Senate’s 30th and 32nd districts, respectively, while Schachtner will face either current state Rep. Rob Stafsholt, R-New Richmond, or Somerset small business owner Cherie Link — depending on who wins the August primary.

Assembly seats

The state Democratic Party contributed $35,000 each — some of the party’s biggest contributions to individual campaigns — to Vining and fellow incumbent Reps. Beth Meyers, D-Bayfield, and Steve Doyle, D-Onalaska. In addition, the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee contributed another $50,000 to Doyle’s re-election effort.

Vining raised more than $101,000 this year, with almost $58,000 coming from individual donors and the remainder from committees.

Of Vining’s three potential GOP opponents, Wauwatosa church outreach director Bonnie Lee raised the most with about $65,000 — which includes $20,000 from Lee’s own pocket.

GOP candidates Steven Shevey, of Brookfield, spent $3,400 of his own money, while Elmbrook School Board member Linda Boucher raised about $9,200 — the large majority of which came out of her own pocket.

All told, Meyers raised more than $117,000 as of June 30. Nearly half of those funds came from individual donors while more than $61,000 came from committees.

By comparison, Meyer’s District 14 challenger James Bolen, a resort manager and Bayfield County Economic Development Corp. board member, raised about $4,400 in individual and committee contributions.

Of the more than $132,000 raised by Doyle this filing period, a combined $85,000 came from the state Democratic Party and the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee.

Doyle’s GOP challenger and La Crosse County Board Sup. Kevin Hoyer raised more than $11,000, with almost $3,200 of that coming from the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee.

Senate seats

Schachtner raised nearly $80,000 for her re-election campaign in the Senate’s 10th District. The state Democratic Party donated $15,000 to her effort.

State Rep. Rob Stafsholt, R-New Richmond, is running to unseat Schachtner and raised more than $36,000.

In the Senate’s 30th District Democratic primary, Green Bay’s Sandra Ewald raised just shy of $900, compared with Hansen’s nephew and De Pere City Council member Jonathon Hansen, who raised more than $36,000 from individual donors and committees.

Wimberger, a lawyer from Green Bay, raised about $6,200.

In the Senate’s 32nd District, Kapanke raised more than $187,000, with all but about $23,000 coming from individual donors. Kapenke’s campaign received nearly $10,000 in cash and in-kind support from the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate.

Close behind was former Pfaff, who raised more than $155,000 since announcing his candidacy in late April. The State Senate Democratic Committee donated $50,000 to Pfaff’s campaign.

Fellow Democratic candidate and nurse Jayne Swiggum, of Gays Mills, spent a little more than $260 of her own money on her campaign.

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As the host of the Democratic National Convention in August and one of a few swing states in the November election, Wisconsin is the center of the political universe in 2020.

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