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Democratic Control in Wisconsin At Greatest Level in a Generation

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With its takeover of the State Assembly last week, Democrats now control both legislative chambers and the governor’s office in the Badger State for the first time since the 1984 election.

Wisconsin Democrats were able to accomplish in 2008 what Republicans have done only one time since the 1968 election – control all three legislative and executive power points in Madison. With the exception of the Republican Revolution of 1994, Democrats have been in control of at least one of these three prongs of state government since 1970.

Democrats emerged with a majority of seats in the Assembly in every election from 1970 through 1992, only to lose control from 1994 through 2006.

In the Senate, Democrats ended a decade-plus run of Republican control in 1974, and then held onto power for 13 of the next 14 election cycles through the 2000 election (only briefly losing control in Election 1994, by a 17-16 margin). After GOP victories in two straight election cycles in 2002 and 2004, Democrats regained control of the upper legislative chamber in 2006.

Democrats controlled the governor’s office after the 1970 election with the first of two victories by Patrick J. Lucey, until Republican Lee Dreyfus’ open-race victory in 1978. Democrats briefly won back the executive branch in 1982 behind Anthony Earl, only to lose four straight elections to Republican Tommy Thompson from 1986 through 1998.

Since 1960, Democrats had controlled all three prongs of government in Wisconsin for eight years collectively, from 1975 through 1978 and 1983 through 1986. Aside from its two-year reign during the Republican Revolution (1995-1997), the last instance of power unity by the GOP lasted from 1967 through 1970.

Election 2008 also marks the first time since 1976 that Wisconsin Democrats control the governor’s office, have a majority of seats in both legislative chambers, will send a Democratic majority-led delegation to Congress, and voted for a Democratic presidential nominee. Republicans last accomplished this feat in the 1968 election.

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Defeating his Tea Party primary challenger Milton Wolf with just 48.1 percent of the vote, Pat Roberts narrowly escaped becoming the first elected U.S. Senator from Kansas to lose a renomination bid in 100 years. The last - and so far only - elected U.S. Senator to lose a Kansas primary was one-term Republican Joseph Bristow in 1914. Bristow was defeated by former U.S. Senator Charles Curtis who went on to win three terms before becoming Herbert Hoover's running mate in 1928. Only one other U.S. Senator from the Sunflower State has lost a primary since the passage of the 17th Amendment: Sheila Frahm in 1996. Frahm was appointed to fill Bob Dole's seat earlier that year and finished 13.2 points behind Sam Brownback in the three-candidate primary field. Overall, incumbent senators from Kansas have won 29 times against two defeats in the direct vote era. (Curtis also lost a primary in 1912 to Walter Stubbs, one year before the nation moved to direct elections).


The Second Time Around

Former Republican Congressman Bob Beauprez became the seventh major party or second place gubernatorial candidate in Colorado to get a second chance at the office when he narrowly won his party's nomination last month. Two of the previous six candidates were successful. Democrat Alva Adams lost his first gubernatorial bid to Benjamin Eaton in 1884, but was victorious two years later against William Meyer. Democrat Charles Johnson placed third in 1894 behind Republican Albert McIntyre and Populist incumbent Governor David Waite but returned as the Fusion (Democrat/Populist) nominee in 1898 and defeated GOPer Henry Wolcott. Gubernatorial candidates who received a second chance but lost both general elections include Democrat Thomas Patterson (1888, 1914), Progressive Edward Costigan (1912, 1914), Republican Donald Brotzman (1954, 1956), and Republican David Strickland (1978, 1986).


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