Wisconsin 2nd District
On a narrow isthmus between Lakes Mendota and Monona is the center of Madison and in many ways the center of Wisconsin. The state Capitol rises at one end of State Street, and at the other end is the main campus of the University of Wisconsin, in a beautiful, park like setting above Lake Mendota. For most of the 20th century, Wisconsin politics was dominated by the Madison-based La Follettes and their liberal Democratic successors. University faculty were devoted to former governor and senator Bob La Follette’s “Wisconsin idea” of an apolitical bureaucracy and to his Wisconsin Tax Commission and workmen’s compensation law—both firsts in the nation. Madison spawned an activist and sometimes violent student movement during the Vietnam War. A graduate student was killed in a laboratory by a bomb set off by a protester. In recent years the liberal campus opposed the welfare-reform and school-choice laws enacted while Republican Tommy Thompson was governor, and it was not entirely happy with the centrist policies of his Democratic successor, Jim Doyle. A steady debate goes on here between the very liberal Madison Capital Times and its more conservative rival, the Wisconsin State Journal; the two newspapers practice the kind of competitive journalism now seen in only a few other major cities and state capitals. This is an urban capital in the midst of farmland; the Dane County farmers’ market is the largest in the nation.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Madison is the center of Wisconsin’s 2nd Congressional District, which is roughly equal parts urban, suburban and rural. It includes surrounding Dane County and dairy and alfalfa country to the north and south, as well as several rural dairy counties that have traditionally been Republican. It takes in the birthplace of the Ringling Brothers Circus in Baraboo, and the Swiss-settled town of New Glarus, known statewide for the New Glarus Brewing Company and its Fat Squirrel and Spotted Cow beers. Prairie du Sac, to the north of Madison, is home to the corporate headquarters of the rapidly expanding Culver’s fast-food chain, famous for its quintessentially Wisconsin butter burgers, with an optional side of fried cheese curds. The Wisconsin Dells, and its giant water park, has long been a family vacation destination for city dwellers.
Median family income in Madison is nearly twice the level in Milwaukee, with its shrinking job base. Local industry, rooted in the university and the state government, has proved to be recession resistant; the growth industries include health care (Madison is home to American Family Insurance) and biotechnology start-ups tied to the university. In the early 1990s, rural Dane County was open to Republicans like Thompson. But even the rural areas have become bluer as Madison-area liberals move to the countryside. The 2nd is now a very Democratic district. Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry carried it 62%-37% in 2004, and Democrat Barack Obama won it 69%-30% in 2008.