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State Legislative Incumbents: Coasting in MN, Challenged in WI

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While most interest and suspense among the public in election years is reserved for November, primaries can highlight the differences among states in the power of state legislative incumbency in deterring challenges from within one's own party.

Primaries today in Minnesota and Wisconsin highlight how Minnesota's political party system is much more effective in deterring intra-party state legislative battles with only 4 of 167 incumbents facing a challenger. By contrast, Wisconsin district-level races have a primary challenger rate (14%) of more than 6 times that of the Gopher state (2%).

In Minnesota's State Senate, only 2 of the 58 (3%) incumbents running for re-election will face an opponent in the primary: one incumbent from both the DFL (Dean Elton Johnson, District 13) and the GOP (Paul Koering, District 12).

By contrast, 19% of Wisconsin's State Senate incumbents (3 of 16) will face intra-party challenges: democrats Jeff Plale (District 7) and Robert Dauch (District 25) and republican David Allen Zien (District 23).

In Minnesota's State House, just 2 of the 111 (2%) incumbents on the ballot will square off in a primary challenge—both republicans (Mark Buesgens, District 35b; Neil Peterson, 41b).

In Wisconsin's State Assembly, 12 of the 89 (13%) incumbents will have to defend their spot on the ballot, including districts with 7 GOP incumbents (Districts 24, 33, 49, 50, 53, 83, 93) and 5 Democratic incumbents (Districts 16, 25, 73, 81, 91).

Are Wisconsin's state legislators more vulnerable to being unseated from within, and, if so, why? Stay tuned to the Smart Politics' primary election results reports later this week.

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4 Comments


  • There were a few questions that came to mind in your analysis. Is this true year-to-year? Does Wisconsin always have greater intra-party competition or is this year an exception?

    Also, are there differences in the proportion of incumbents in the Legislature running for re-election? That might also impact the analysis.

  • > Also, are there differences in the proportion of incumbents in the Legislature running for re-election? That might also impact the analysis.

    Good points. The proportion of seats with incumbents running for re-election are very high for both states, but slightly higher in Wisconsin for the Senate (94% in WI, 87% in MN) as well as the Assembly/House (89% WI, 83% MN).

  • In the 7th Senate District, the incumbent Plale's challenger dropped out due to an allegation that he voted twice in 2000.

    I would like to know what the total non-votes for the incumbent Plale are. I would define non-votes as votes for his dropped-out challenger Riley, plus votes for write-in candidates, plus the difference between the votes cast for Attorney General in the 7th Senate District vs. the votes cast for Plale (this would count those voters who went to the poles in the 7th Senate District, chose the Democratic primary ballot, but did not vote for Plale).

  • > I would like to know what the total non-votes for the incumbent Plale are.

    I'll make a note of this. The official results will be posted by the Wisconsin State Elections Board on September 26th, so I calculate non-votes then.

  • Leave a comment


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