How Michels won and just how nasty is the Senate race going to be?

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How Tim Michels broke with Republican voting history and prevailed without winning Milwaukee's suburbs

  • In a shift befitting of the Trump Era, winner Tim Michels achieved his victory despite narrowly losing metropolitan Milwaukee by dominating most of the rest of the state. Endorsed by Donald Trump, Michels won his biggest margins in the “Trumpiest” parts of Wisconsin, winning small rural counties by 20, 30 and 40 points.

  • Despite the support of former Gov. Scott Walker, Rebecca Kleefisch did not achieve the victory margins she needed in the Milwaukee suburbs to offset Michels’ big leads elsewhere. Kleefisch won Waukesha by only 7 points. By contrast, the winner of the 2018 Senate primary, Leah Vukmir, won Waukesha by 37 points over Kevin Nicholson. The winner of the 2016 presidential primary, Ted Cruz, won Waukesha by 39 points over Trump. The winner of the 2010 primary for governor, Scott Walker, won Waukesha by 55 points over Mark Neumann. Kleefisch won Ozaukee by only 5 points. She won Milwaukee County by only 5 points. And she lost Washington County by 9 points.

  • In terms of the map, Michels accomplished two equally important things: running up the score in small counties and remaining very competitive in big counties. As a result, the WOW counties did not crown the Republican winner in Wisconsin, because the WOW counties were themselves divided in this very divisive primary fight, because Wisconsin’s smaller counties spoke with a more unified voice and because the center of gravity in the GOP has shifted in a rural direction.

'This race is going to get nasty on both sides': Mandela Barnes and Ron Johnson are poised for an expensive, contentious U.S. Senate battle

  • There's a lot on the line — the road for control of the U.S. Senate goes right through Wisconsin. In this cycle, Johnson is the only sitting Republican senator running for re-election in a state that President Joe Biden won in 2020. Outside groups have already poured millions of dollars into the race, and plenty more is yet to come. Including spending from the candidates, who are likely to each raise tens of millions of dollars, the race could top $200 million in ad expenditures. "This race is going to get nasty on both sides," said Jessica Taylor, Senate and Governors Editor for The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter.

  • The Cook Political Report rates the race as a toss-up. "Wisconsin is just the most divided state politically in the country right now," Taylor said. There's little head-to-head polling so far. A Marquette University Law School Poll from June showed Barnes with a 2-point lead over Johnson in a projected fall match-up, well within the survey's margin of error.

  • Both sides see ample "targets of opportunity" as they try to define the race. On the issues, Republicans are expected to push back hard against Barnes' advocacy for a Green New Deal "that works for Wisconsin" and Medicare for All. They'll also zero in on his support to end cash bail nationally. Taylor said Republicans will dig into Barnes on policing and immigration, even as Barnes has sought to distance himself from defund police and abolish ICE movements. "There are hits against Johnson as well," Taylor said, ticking off Johnson's controversial remarks on issues ranging from downplaying the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol to questioning COVID-19 vaccinations.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: How Michels won and just how nasty is the Senate race going to be?