Former state Rep. Kelda Roys was the surprise winner of a straw poll held at the state Democratic convention over the weekend. A March poll showed she had just 0.3 percent support in a broad field of candidates. State schools Superintendent Tony Evers, who led that March poll at 18 percent, came in third in the straw poll with 11.5 percent of the 789 ballots.
What does that mean going forward? According to some pundits, maybe not much.
On Sunday’s episode of WKOW-TV’s political talk show “Capital City Sunday,” two guests, one conservative and one liberal, cautioned against putting too much stock in the straw poll. One added that he doesn’t buy into the “blue wave” either.
“Most candidates will say, what’s the residual of that vote? Probably not much. So, it was a fun thing at the convention and we’ve got to move on,” said Brandon Scholz, a lobbyist and Republican strategist.
“The Democratic convention is not going to change a single strategy point for a single candidate, in my opinion,” said Scot Ross, executive director of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now.
Along with the governor’s race, the pair also weighed in on other upcoming races, including the special legislative elections and the chances of a liberal-leaning justice replacing Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson after she announced her retirement this week.
Straw polls are not the last word in elections, Scholz and Ross said. Some candidates simply dedicate more time before the convention reaching out to gain straw poll votes, Scholz said. Ross referenced his own straw poll win in 2006 when he ran for secretary of state. It did not translate into election day victory. In fact, he ended up with only 29 percent of the vote in the election, he said.
And low straw poll numbers likely won’t cause candidates to drop out, both guests said.
The battle between candidates to “become significant” will play out over the next 10 weeks, Scholz said. The few top tier candidates will emerge based on the amount of money they raise and may “show up” in upcoming Marquette University Law School polls, he said.
“From here on out, they’ve really got to do things to separate themselves from the pack,” Scholz said.
Ross said the race will ultimately go to the Democratic candidate who “contrasts best” with Walker.
“You ain’t going to beat Scott Walker by proving he’s going to make Wisconsin worse, you’re going to beat Scott Walker by proving you’re going to make Wisconsin better,” he said.
Ross and Scholz also addressed the upcoming special elections, to be held June 12, for seats in Senate District 1 to replace former state Sen. Frank Lasee (R-De Pere) and Assembly District 42 to replace former state Rep. Keith Ripp (R-Lodi). Both left their roles for jobs in Walker’s administration.
Host Emilee Fannon asked whether a “blue wave” could cause these seats to “flip” to Democrats.
Scholz maintained, as he has said previously, that he is not a “big subscriber to the blue wave.” Previous success in special elections can be linked to efforts to improve voter turnout, he said. It’s hard to motivate voters to show up for special elections, he said, and can be a matter of having “one more than the other guy.”
“I don’t think it amounts to a blue wave,” he said.
Ross does believe in the impact of a blue wave, because “in these lower turnout elections, (if) you have the enthusiasm, you’re going to win,” he said. Ross pointed to Rebecca Dallet’s win as state Supreme Court justice over Sauk County Judge Michael Screnock, whom he called Walker’s “handpicked candidate.”
Scholz said that while Dallet’s campaign was well run, success won’t necessarily be repeated across the state.
“You can’t paint a second Mona Lisa ... The wave just doesn’t come and make it happen for you, you have to create that wave,” Scholz said.
Ross added that Democrats will be motivated by opposition to President Donald Trump, saying that “every single day that Donald Trump tweets, which is every single day, it is sending more Democrats” to the polls.
Fannon asked if her guests were confident that Abrahamson’s seat would “remain liberal-leaning.”
“No,” Scholz said. “In an open seat, anything goes.”
If there was a liberal incumbent, that could lead to more confidence that it would remain liberal, he said, but as an open seat, the race depends on the caliber of the candidate, funding and other outside factors.