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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


    Remains of the Data

    No Free Passes: States With 2 Major Party Candidates in Every US House Race

    Indiana has now placed candidates from both major parties on the ballot in a nation-best 189 consecutive U.S. House races, with New Hampshire, Minnesota, Idaho, and Montana also north of 100 in a row.

    Political Crumbs

    Gubernatorial Highs and Lows

    Two sitting governors currently hold the record for the highest gubernatorial vote ever received in their respective states by a non-incumbent: Republican Matt Mead of Wyoming (65.7 percent in 2010) and outgoing GOPer Dave Heineman of Nebraska (73.4 percent in 2006). Republican Gary Herbert of Utah had not previously won a gubernatorial contest when he notched a state record 64.1 percent for his first victory in 2010, but was an incumbent at the time after ascending to the position in 2009 after the early departure of Jon Huntsman. Meanwhile, two sitting governors hold the record in their states for the lowest mark ever recorded by a winning gubernatorial candidate (incumbent or otherwise): independent-turned-Democrat Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island (36.1 percent in 2010) and Democrat Terry McAuliffe of Virginia (47.8 percent in 2013).


    An Idaho Six Pack

    Two-term Idaho Republican Governor Butch Otter only polled at 39 percent in a recent PPP survey of the state's 2014 race - just four points ahead of Democratic businessman A.J. Balukoff. Otter's low numbers reflect his own struggles as a candidate (witness his weak primary win against State Senator Russ Fulcher) combined with the opportunity for disgruntled Idahoans to cast their votes for one of four third party and independent candidates, who collectively received the support of 12 percent of likely voters: Libertarian John Bujak, the Constitution Party's Steve Pankey, and independents Jill Humble and Pro-Life (aka Marvin Richardson). The six candidate options in a gubernatorial race sets an all-time record in the Gem State across the 46 elections conducted since statehood. The previous high water mark of five candidates was reached in seven previous cycles: 1902, 1904, 1908, 1912, 1914, 1966, and 2010.


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