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WisPolitics: Dems pull off sweep

By JR Ross

Democrats pulled off an impressive sweep Tuesday in Wisconsin, propelling Barack Obama to the biggest win by a presidential contender here in more than four decades and retaking the state Assembly for the first time in 14 years.

"Thank you, thank you,” Gov. Jim Doyle told an enthusiastic crowd at the Monona Terrace in downtown Madison. “What an incredible night for Wisconsin. What an incredible night for the country. And what an incredible night for the world."

Tuesday’s results also delivered back-to-back blows to Republicans, who got caught up in a Dem wave two years ago only to get whacked again. The party is now in its worst shape here since 1986, the last time Dems held both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office.

Tommy Thompson won the first of his four elections for governor that fall, and Republicans began to steadily build up their numbers in the Assembly until they peaked at 60 seats after the 2004 elections.

Now, J.B. Van Hollen is the only Republican who holds a statewide office in Wisconsin, Dems hold five of the state’s eight seats in Congress, and the GOP will be in the minority in both houses of the Legislature come January.

Freshman U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen, D-Appleton, beat Republican John Gard in a re-match of their 2006 race with 54 percent of the vote in the 8th CD. Four years ago, President Bush won 55 percent of the vote there as he narrowly lost Wisconsin.

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan said the Republican Party will "need to learn some lessons after all of this." But like other speakers at a state party gathering, Ryan said Nov. 4 would be a historic night for the Republican Party.

"We're not going to look back at this election and say this is the time John McCain lost," Ryan said. "We're going to look back at this election and say this is the time we turned things around.”

Republicans went into the past legislative session with a 52-47 edge in the Assembly. But they lost a seat on filing day when Rep. Jeff Wood announced he was leaving the party to run as an independent.

Wood beat back a challenge from Republican Don Moga Tuesday to retain his seat, and Dems picked off five seats that had been in GOP hands to give them an expected majority of 52-46 with Wood as the only independent in the chamber.

Several races were close enough that recounts were possible, particularly the 47th District, where Republican Keith Ripp edged Dem Trish O'Neil by 28 votes out of almost 31,000 cast for the two of them.

GOP Rep. Frank Lasee of Bellevue was picked off by Dem Ted Zigmunt after WEAC spent at least $275,000 on TV ads to target the incumbent in a district with a Republican lean.

The other four losses were more expected. Penny Bernard Schaber won the open 57th District, beating Republican Jo Egelhoff, while Dem Mark Radcliffe beat Dan Hellman in the open 92nd District. Both had been in GOP hands.

Kristen Dexter knocked off GOP Rep. Terry Moulton in the 68th District, while Fred Clark beat GOP Rep. J.A. “Doc Hines” with 58 percent of the vote in the 42nd District.

On the Senate side, Democrats as expected maintained control. Republicans held onto the 15 seats they had going into the election. GOP state Sen. Alberta Darling trailed Rep. Sheldon Wasserman in early returns, and the Dem challenger told his supporters to go home late Election Night because the race wasn’t likely to be sorted out until early Wednesday. But Senate Republicans said she picked up enough votes late to pull it out and with 98 percent of the vote counted, Darling had a 52 percent to 48 percent lead.

Dems also managed to retain the 12th Senate District, as Jim Holperin won 51 percent of the vote over Tom Tiffany.

Republican Randy Hopper beat Dem Jessica King by just 180 votes in the 18th Senate District, and Dems indicated they may seek a recount there.

Wisconsin was supposed to be a battle ground state in the presidential race, but it turned into a rout for Obama.

With 96 percent of the vote in, Obama had 56 percent of the vote compared to 43 percent for John McCain. If that margin holds up, it would be the biggest win, percentage-wise since Lyndon Johnson won Wisconsin in 1964 during his landslide win over Barry Goldwater. The 369,000-vote gap between Obama and McCain would also be the largest since that 1964 race, when Johnson won by 411,929.

Doyle told Dems Tuesday night their efforts in Wisconsin helped shore up the state for Obama so he could focus on GOP territories.

“We helped him take the fight to red states,” Doyle said.

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