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Assembly Democratic leader says party can win majority in November

Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer says Democrats will spend big in newly-drawn competitive districts

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Wisconsin Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer, D-Racine
Wisconsin Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer, D-Racine, says gerrymandering has created a self-reinforcing cycle that makes it harder for Democrats to win seats. She is seen at the State of the State address at the Capitol in Madison, Wis. on January 24, 2018. Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Watch

Democrats can win control of the state Assembly this fall with the benefit of new legislative maps and with messages tailored to competitive districts, the party’s minority leader said Thursday. 

“The path is there,” said Rep. Greta Neubauer, D-Racine, at a WisPolitics luncheon in Madison. “We all know this.”

Neubauer said if election results this November mirrored President Joe Biden’s performance in the 2020 presidential race, Democrats would win 49 seats under new maps drawn by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and passed by Republican lawmakers.

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If this November’s results were to match Evers’ 2022 victory, Democrats would win 52 seats, she said.

“We think we can get 52 seats. I think that’s entirely possible,” Neubauer said.

Redistricting experts hired by the Wisconsin Supreme Court said Evers’ maps are slightly “tilted toward the Republicans” but competitive enough that “the party that wins the most votes will win the most seats” in the Legislature.

That hasn’t been the case since 2011. Under Republican maps drawn that year, and refined in 2021, the GOP majority in the Assembly has swelled to 64-35, a near-supermajority.

Data compiled by Marquette University Law School Research Fellow John Johnson based on 2020 election results shows 42 assembly districts favoring Democrats by more than 10 percentage points. Another four seats favor Democrats by single digits. His data also shows 46 Assembly seats favoring Republicans by more than 10 percentage points, with seven additional seats favoring Republicans by single digits.

Neubauer said the party will ensure every Democratic candidate “has locally-rooted talking points for why Joe Biden has helped their community and how he will do that going forward.” 

She said Racine Mayor Cory Mason provided her a list of such projects funded by federal dollars from the Biden administration: an electric bus fleet, a health clinic, a youth employment program, a Financial Empowerment Center and six major road projects. 

“Those are the kinds of things that people feel in their lives,” Neubauer said. 

She said she has talked to voters who are not enthusiastic about voting for Biden again. 

“But then when you have a longer conversation, you find out that their daughter actually went to the Financial Empowerment Center in Racine and it helped them figure out how to get a loan for their first home, then all of a sudden, they feel a little bit better about Joe Biden,” she said. “So I think that’s going to be core to our strategy, is making sure that folks understand that those impacts that they felt over the last four years are tied to this administration.” 

Democrats anticipate spending tens of millions of dollars

More competitive Assembly races will require the Democratic party to raise and spend unprecedented sums of money. Neubauer said the party spent about $1.2 million defending Rep. Steve Doyle’s La Crosse County seat in 2022. 

“We now have about 15 really competitive seats, where we anticipate spending around $1.2 million, sometimes more than that,” she said. 

WisPolitics President Jeff Mayers, who interviewed Neubauer, predicted spending in the race for Doyle’s seat could reach $2 million this cycle, which he called “amazing” for a state Assembly seat. 

“We’re talking tens of millions of dollars” spent on competitive races this year, Mayer said.

“Yes,” Neubauer agreed.

She said Assembly Democrats have a close relationship with state party chair Ben Wikler.

“He knows that we are not going to be able to get good policy done in Wisconsin without Democratic majorities. And so he is putting a huge amount of time and energy into raising dollars that will help Assembly candidates as well,” she said. 

Neubauer: More competitive seats could strain GOP unity

Even if Democrats fail to capture the majority this year, Neubauer said gaining seats will result in more policy victories. 

She said two years ago, only 2 percent of bills authored by Democrats managed to get a hearing in the Assembly. This year, it was a little more than 5 percent, she said.

“So we’ve made some progress. But I expect that it’s going to go up quite a bit more next session,” she said. 

She predicted Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, will have trouble keeping his caucus in line to vote against popular legislation supported by Democrats. 

“People are not going to do that when they have to go home and win a 50-50 seat year after year and they have to answer really tough questions about why they didn’t support marijuana legalization or further investments in K 12 schools, or gun safety,” she said. 

“These are overwhelmingly popular issues that the Republican Legislature has all but ignored,” Neubauer said. “And they’re just not going to be able to do that when they have to win seats like this.”

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