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Is Democratic Hold on Wisconsin's 2012 U.S. Senate Seat Tied to an Obama Victory?

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Badger State has voted for same party of U.S. Senate and Presidential nominees in 14 of 16 election cycles over the last century

Barack Obama's frequent trips to Wisconsin are generating beltway buzz of late - framed by journalists as a telling sign that the president has gone on the offensive in the usually reliable (though competitive) Democratic state that the GOP thoroughly dominated in last November's midterms.

Obama has already visited the Badger State a half-dozen times since his inauguration and will stop in Manitowoc - a city approximately 90 minutes north of Milwaukee on Lake Michigan - in his first post-State of the Union stop later this month.

To be sure, Wisconsin's 10 electoral votes are a key puzzle piece to the President's 2012 reelection picture.

But just how nervous should Obama and Wisconsin Democrats be?

On the plus side, Obama's 56.2 percent of the vote in Wisconsin in 2008 was the second largest tally by a Democratic presidential nominee in the state since 1940 and the 4th best in the history of the Badger State across 41 election cycles.

Only Franklin Roosevelt in 1936 (63.8 percent) and 1932 (63.5 percent) and Lyndon Johnson in 1964 (62.1 percent) fared better than Obama in 2008 among Democratic nominees throughout history.

However, the President's impressive performance does not guarantee a long half life of subsequent success for the Democratic presidential nominee in Wisconsin - FDR's support dwindled to 50.1 percent in 1940 and then a loss in 1944, while Johnson's VP - Hubert Humphrey - failed to carry the state as the nominee in 1968.

Democratic Vote for President in Wisconsin, 1848-2008

Rank
Year
Democrat
Percent
Result
1
1936
Franklin Roosevelt
63.8
Won
2
1932
Franklin Roosevelt
63.5
Won
3
1964
Lyndon Johnson
62.1
Won
4
2008
Barack Obama
56.2
Won
5
1852
Franklin Pierce
52.0
Won
6
1988
Michael Dukakis
51.4
Won
7
1948
Harry Truman
50.7
Won
8
1940
Franklin Roosevelt
50.1
Won
9
2004
John Kerry
49.7
Won
10
1976
Jimmy Carter
49.4
Won
11
1996
Bill Clinton
48.8
Won
12
1944
Franklin Roosevelt
48.6
Lost
13
1876
Samuel Tilden
48.4
Lost
14
1960
John Kennedy
48.0
Lost
15
2000
Al Gore
47.8
Won
16
1892
Grover Cleveland
47.7
Won
17
1884
Grover Cleveland
45.8
Lost
18
1984
Walter Mondale
45.0
Lost
18
1872
Horace Greeley
45.0
Lost
20
1968
Hubert Humphrey
44.3
Lost
20
1928
Alfred Smith
44.3
Lost
22
1856
James Buchanan
44.2
Lost
23
1864
George McClellan
44.1
Lost
24
1888
Grover Cleveland
43.8
Lost
24
1868
Horatio Seymour
43.8
Lost
26
1972
George McGovern
43.7
Won
27
1980
Jimmy Carter
43.2
Lost
28
1880
Winfield Hancock
42.9
Lost
29
1916
Woodrow Wilson
42.8
Lost
30
1860
Stephen Douglas
42.7
Lost
31
1992
Bill Clinton
41.2
Won
32
1912
Woodrow Wilson
41.1
Won
33
1952
Adlai Stevenson
38.7
Lost
34
1848
Lewis Cass
38.3
Won
35
1956
Adlai Stevenson
37.8
Lost
36
1896
William J. Bryan
37.0
Lost
37
1908
William J. Bryan
36.7
Lost
38
1900
William J. Bryan
36.0
Lost
39
1904
Alton Parker
28.0
Lost
40
1920
James Cox
16.2
Lost
41
1924
John Davis
8.1
Lost
Table compiled by Smart Politics.

But Obama's performance at the top of the ticket in Wisconsin may not simply impact who wins the White House - it could also determine the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.

A Smart Politics review of historical U.S. Senate election results finds that Wisconsin has voted for the same political party in U.S. Senate and presidential elections in 14 of 16 cycles, dating back to the birth of popular vote contests in 1914.

Wisconsinites have currently cast their ballots for the same political party in U.S. Senate and presidential contests in six consecutive elections: in 1976 (Democrat), 1980 (Republican), 1988 (Democrat), 1992 (Democrat), 2000 (Democrat), and 2004 (Democrat).

The last time the state split its statewide federal office ticket was in 1968, when Richard Nixon carried Wisconsin while Democrat Gaylord Nelson defeated GOPer Jerris Leonard by 23.4 points.

The only other time the Badger State failed to rally behind the same party in both presidential and senatorial races was in 1940, when Roosevelt carried Wisconsin and Progressive Senator Robert La Follette, Jr. was sent back to D.C. for a fourth term.

In each of the eight remaining election cycles, the same party carried both the vote for president and U.S. Senator in Wisconsin: in 1916 (Republican), 1920 (Republican), 1928 (Republican), 1932 (Democrat), 1944 (Republican), 1952 (Republican), 1956 (Republican), and 1964 (Democrat).

The tenuousness of the Democrat's hold on their lone Senate seat also hinges in part on whether four-term Senator Herb Kohl opts to retire (Kohl is ranked near the top on many retirement "watch lists").

However, even well-established incumbent Senators in recent decades - such as three-term Democrat Gaylord Nelson and two-term Republican Robert Kasten - have proven vulnerable to a top of the ticket stumble by their party's presidential nominee.

Nelson was defeated by 1.9 points in 1980 (by Kasten) when Ronald Reagan carried Wisconsin by 4.7 points over Jimmy Carter.

Kasten, meanwhile, lost his Senate seat to Russ Feingold by 6.6 points in 1992 when Bill Clinton defeated George Bush by 4.4 points.

In short, a Kohl reelection bid does not guarantee a Democratic victory despite the favorable odds D.C. prognosticators have awarded him early in the cycle.

Overall, Democratic presidential nominees have won Wisconsin 17 times since statehood in 1848 with Republicans winning 23 times and Progressive Robert La Follette carrying his home state in 1924.

Wisconsin has cast its ballot for the winning presidential nominee in 31 of 41 elections, or 76 percent of the time.

Wisconsin US Senate and Presidential Nominee Winners, 1916-present

Year
US Senate
Party
President
Party
2004
Feingold
Dem
Kerry
Dem
2000
Kohl
Dem
Gore
Dem
1992
Feingold
Dem
Clinton
Dem
1988
Kohl
Dem
Dukakis
Dem
1980
Kasten
GOP
Reagan
GOP
1976
Proxmire
Dem
Carter
Dem
1968
Nelson
Dem
Nixon
GOP
1964
Proxmire
Dem
Johnson
Dem
1956
Wiley
GOP
Eisenhower
GOP
1952
McCarthy
GOP
Eisenhower
GOP
1944
Wiley
GOP
Dewey
GOP
1940
La Follette, Jr.
Prog
Roosevelt
Dem
1932
Duffy
Dem
Roosevelt
Dem
1928
La Follette, Jr.
GOP
Hoover
GOP
1920
Lenroot
GOP
Harding
GOP
1916
La Follette
GOP
Hughes
GOP
Data reflects results since popular vote U.S. Senate elections were introduced in Wisconsin in 1914. Table compiled by Smart Politics.

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Previous post: More Likely 2012 US Senate Scenario: Connecticut to the GOP or North Dakota to the Dems?
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