Smart Politics is running a series of election profiles of all the Upper Midwestern U.S. Senate and U.S. House races leading up to the November 4th elections. The series will culminate with Smart Politics' official projections. The sixteenth profile in the series is Wisconsin's 8th Congressional District race.
Wisconsin's 8th Congressional District comprises the north-eastern counties of Brown, Door, Florence, Forest, Kewaunee, Marinette, Menominee, Oconto, Outagamie, Shawano, Vilas, Waupaca, and parts of Langlade and Oneida counties.
Kagen won the 8th District's open-seat race in 2006 by 2.1 points over Republican John Gard, who is seeking a rematch in 2008. Four-term Republican Mark Green had held the seat before his failed 2006 gubernatorial candidacy in the Badger State. In fact, Republicans had won the 8th District in 13 of the previous 14 election cycles, dating back to 1978, with the only Democratic victory during that span coming in 1996 (Jay W. Johnson, by 4.1 points). The GOP had an average margin of victory of 30.8 points in those 13 races.
Kagen, a physician, serves on the House Committee on Agriculture and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
John Gard, a former Wisconsin State Assembly Speaker, is the GOP's lone chance for a pickup in 2008 in Wisconsin. Gard has pledged never to ask for an earmark if elected to Congress, as well as pledged never to vote for an income tax increase. Gard also supports drilling in Alaska, constructing a border fence, and denying healthcare benefits to illegal aliens.
From 1978 to 2004, only 3 of the 14 elections in the 8th District were decided by less than 10 points. The 2008 edition of Gard vs. Kagen may not be quite as close as 2006, but it is the easy favorite to be the most competitive U.S. House contest in the Badger State. Polling in early October suggests the district is leaning towards both Barack Obama and Kagen in their respective matchups, and highly disapproves of President Bush's job performance (26 percent, SurveyUSA), despite voting for Bush by a 55 to 44 percent margin over John Kerry in 2004. Bush's approval rating was 33 percent two years ago when Kagen defeated Gard.