Waiting in the wings is Rep. Tammy Baldwin. The Democrat is easily cast as a Madison liberal who couldn’t possibly win statewide, but Wisconsin Republicans caution against underestimating her. For one thing, Madison Democrats have a much easier time winning statewide elections than do Milwaukee Democrats. (Feingold and former Gov. Jim Doyle both came from Madison, while the current mayor of Milwaukee has lost two bids for the governorship.) Moreover, Wisconsinites have a century-long tradition of electing liberal senators such as Robert La Follette, William Proxmire, Feingold, and Herb Kohl, whose seat is now open.
Wisconsin’s electorate becomes more liberal in presidential election years, although this year’s gubernatorial recall gave both sides the opportunity to build a top-notch field operation. Baldwin will benefit from a stronger turnout in Milwaukee, while the eventual Republican winner will get a boost from suburban Waukesha County, which helped Gov. Scott Walker keep his job.
Two questions will determine the general-election outcome: Can Republicans peel off conservative, out-state Democrats who aren’t predisposed toward a Madison liberal, or will Baldwin unite the Democratic coalition? And which Republican -- all of whom have their faults -- will win in two weeks?
Connecticut and Arizona are less-competitive states, but both could be vulnerable to late surges if a national wave develops -- with the right candidates.
In Connecticut, former World Wrestling Entertainment executive Linda McMahon is again spending millions for her own cause, but Republicans might be better served by choosing former Rep. Christopher Shays. McMahon couldn’t win in 2010, despite the friendly electoral environment and a big financial advantage over Democrat Richard Blumenthal. But Shays is running a seriously underfunded campaign, and McMahon is likely to cruise in the Aug. 14 primary.
Arizona Republicans will choose between Rep. Jeff Flake and businessman Wil Cardon on Aug. 28. Flake is the front-runner, but Cardon has spent more on television advertising, and he’s been closing the gap. Democrats will rely on former Surgeon General Richard Carmona, aiming to take advantage of the state’s surging Hispanic population. Carmona will need a wave that favors Democrats, but he would have a better shot if Cardon overtakes Flake in the primary.
The number of Democratic seats in play jeopardizes the party’s Senate majority this year, but thanks to Democrats' active recruiting in key races, and a few breaks they’ve caught, they are blunting the Republicans' advantage. This month’s primaries will offer the last opportunities for one side to pad its edge, making even traditionally sleepy August a busy time in this nonstop election season.