© 2024 WNIJ and WNIU
Northern Public Radio
801 N 1st St.
DeKalb, IL 60115
Northern Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
WNIJ and NPR offer special coverage of Election 2016. WNIJ News field reporters and NPR editors nationwide update election news all night.Links to Race ResultsFollow the NPR Live Election BlogLocal County-By-County Election Results

Wisconsin Is Essential For Democrats Seeking U.S. Senate Control

Johnson: congress.com/Feingold: madison.com
Incumbent Wisconsin Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, left, faces a tough challenge from former Democratic U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold.

Two weeks ago, control of the U.S. Senate could be determined by a flip of the coin. Today, Democrats have a 70% to 75% chance of retaking the upper chamber.

That's according to Matt Streb, a political scientist at Northern Illinois University. Streb spoke to WNIJ about the Wisconsin and Illinois Senate races, plus eight U.S. House races in the WNIJ area. We'll feature those interviews each morning this week.

Today we're focusing on the Dairy State battle between incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and Democrat Russ Feingold. This is a rematch of the 2010 contest in which then-Sen. Feingold lost his seat to Johnson in a wave of GOP victories known as the "Tea Party year."

What a difference six years make. This year, Republicans have Donald Trump at the top of the ballot -- a candidate who lost the Wisconsin presidential primary and who's been in a long-running argument with the state's most popular Republican, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Credit Northern Illinois University
Matt Streb, political science professor

But the state's senior U.S. Senator continues to support Trump, who faces numerous accusations of sexual harassment and whose lewd comments about women were on full display in a 2005 video.

Streb says Johnson had to make a tough decision and decided to go for Trump's supporters.

"To back out of your support for (Trump) isn't going to be seen positively by independents, and it's going to do nothing but upset your base," Streb says, "so I think that's one reason you're seeing Johnson double down here."

While Republicans are divided over Trump, Feingold's name recognition is helping with Democrats. "Feingold was the Bernie Sanders before there was Bernie Sanders," Streb says. "He's a progressive known for the McCain-Feingold bill."

Streb adds Feingold was the only Senator to vote against authorizing the war in Iraq. "So this is someone who has a long history as a politician -- and that's something Johnson is pointing out," he says.

Zooming out from Wisconsin, the Senate map looks difficult for Republicans who are defending 24 of the 34 seats up for re-election. Democrats need a net gain of five to retake the chamber.

That margin drops to four if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency and her vice president, the Senate's president pro tempore, casts tie-breaking votes.

Streb calls the Wisconsin seat "incredibly important" for Democrats, as well as the Illinois seat held by Mark Kirk. Streb notes that polls have tightened in neighboring states such as Missouri, where GOP Sen. Roy Blunt is in a nailbiter with Democrat Jason Kander. In Indiana, polls show former Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh leading Republican Todd Young by four points.

Other toss-up races include Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Streb says these races are a clear indication that Trump is hurting Republicans down-ballot. "And in a lot of these states, Hillary Clinton has built up leads over the last couple of weeks," he says.

Streb also comments on two southern Wisconsin U.S. House races, including the seat held by Speaker Ryan, in the interview link at the top of this post.

On Friday, Streb will examine the Illinois contest between GOP Sen. Mark Kirk and Democratic U.S. Rep.  Tammy Duckworth. Tomorrow, he'll look at Illinois' 16th and 8th U.S. House districts. Listen during Morning Edition, right after our latest Perspective, at 6:52 and 8:52.

Good morning, Early Riser! Since 1997 I've been waking WNIJ listeners with the latest news, weather, and program information with the goal of seamlessly weaving this content into NPR's Morning Edition.