When it comes to the Republican primary for Wisconsin's open U.S. Senate seat, the state's Democratic political insiders see the race as a two-man contest between former Gov. Tommy Thompson and businessman Eric Hovde.
But when asked whom Democrat Tammy Baldwin would have the best chance of defeating in the general election, these influential Democrats made it clear that Thompson would be her toughest opponent.
In Patch's first "Blue Wisconsin" Survey of Democratic influencers throughout the state, 47 percent of the respondents said they thought Hovde would win Tuesday's primary election, while 45 percent said Thompson had the best shot.
However, when surveyed on which Republican would give Baldwin the best chance to win in November, only 12 percent of those surveyed picked Thompson — a clear sign that Democratic insiders see him as the strongest GOP candidate.
Thirty-five percent of those surveyed said having Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald win the GOP nomination would give Baldwin the best shot at winning, and 27 percent said it would be former Congressman Mark Neumann.
Patch sent questionnaires to 62 key party activists, elected officials, bloggers, and others who agreed to anonymously give their opinions in a series of surveys between now and the November election. Patch received completed surveys from 49 people — or 78 percent of those surveyed.
Unlike a scientific poll of voters, which typically surveys hundreds of people, the "Blue Wisconsin" Survey takes the pulse of some of Wisconsin's most influential Democrats. Patch has already conducted two "Red Wisconsin" Surveys of Republican influencers.
Among the Democrats who agreed to be surveyed are: newly elected state Sen. John Lehman; Mike Tate, chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin; the chairs of the Milwaukee, Ozaukee and Jefferson County Democrats; Thad Nation, a former aide to Gov. Jim Doyle; Larry Nelson, former Waukesha mayor; and nine candidates for state legislative and congressional seats. (See full list below)
The fact that Democratic insiders see Neumann and Fitzgerald as the weakest candidates against Baldwin isn't surprising because the two Republicans have been near the bottom of the polls — at least until recently.
Neumann had just 10 percentage points to former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson’s 35 and businessman Eric Hovde’s 23 in of GOP candidates. Fitzgerald garnered 6 percentage points. A new Marquette poll will be released Wednesday.
However, a poll released by brushed a different portrait: a close three-way race, with Neumann suddenly thrust into the mix.
The poll showed Hovde in the lead with 28 percent, followed by Thompson and Neumann, each with 25 percent.
Preparing for November
While the Republican candidates have been battling it out in a rutted path to the primary, Baldwin is the lone Democrat running for the seat — which was .
One insider said Baldwin is on the right track, defining herself and record while Republican candidates buck for the primary win.
"Tammy Baldwin is doing exactly what she should be doing, defining herself while the GOP candidates savagely tear each other apart," that respondent said.
Others believe Baldwin could do more.
“Congresswoman Baldwin is still a bit of an unknown to Democrats across the state," the insider said. "She needs to amp up her presence with Dems before the November race."
Another said: "She needs to start running ads about her record in the House. She is allowing the Republicans to define the race, putting her on the defensive. She must be far more proactive if she is going to win."
However, others said Democrats are already galvanized in the state and Baldwin needs to focus on garnering the independent vote.
"She should run as a strong progressive — emphasizing the need to maintain and improve...education, infrastructure, health and retirement programs, seeking support from the grassroots more than from the Democratic Party establishment, responding quickly and forcefully to attacks," one insider said.
Added another: "Democrats are already strongly behind Baldwin. They have been following her for years, and she is very popular."
Life after the recall
Democratic insiders also were asked to gauge the mood of the state party following in the June gubernatorial recall election.
When asked whether the failed recall effort against Republican Gov. Scott Walker "demoralized" Democrats, 71 percent strongly disagreed or somewhat disagreed. About 24 percent somewhat agreed or strongly agreed.
The notion that President Barack Obama should hit Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney in campaign stops for his support of Walker is a move that didn't play over with insiders. About 50 percent either strongly or somewhat disagreed with the strategy; while another 22 percent were neutral.
Jobs, jobs, jobs
A slumping economy and stagnant job growth are arguably the top issues on the mind of many voters, and Wisconsin's Senate race is no exception, according to Democratic insiders.
"The economy is the most important issue, especially the continued GOP emphasis on having 98 percent of Americans subsidize the lifestyles of the wealthiest 2 percent," one insider said. "Most Americans just want people to pay their fair share. The current GOP strategy where the CEO's secretary pays a far higher percentage of income in taxes than the CEO is not sustainable."
"The number one issue in this Senate race will be jobs and the economy, and who can articulate how they will best set about helping to grow them in Wisconsin," another said.
Patch will be conducting Red Wisconsin and Blue Wisconsin surveys throughout 2012 in hopes of determining the true sentiment of active members of both parties in the Badger State.
If you are an activist, party leader or elected official, and would like to take part in a weekly survey that lasts just a few minutes, please email Regional Editor Mark Maley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patch's Blue Wisconsin Survey participants are:
Kelley Albrecht, candidate for 63rd State Assembly District; Mandela Barnes, candidate for 11th State Assembly District; Ron Biendseil, vice chair for membership, Dane County Democratic Party; Tammy Bockhorst, membership secretary/membership chair, Milwaukee County Democratic Party; Randy Bryce, candidate for 62nd State Assembly District; Brian Carlson, liberal blogger; Sachin Chheda, chair, Milwaukee County Democratic Party; Jeff Christensen, chair, 5th Congressional District Democrats; Mark Conforti, chief negotiator for the Fox Point-Bayside Teachers Association; Rick Congdon, former judge and former chair, Democratic Party of Waukesha County; Deb Dassow, progressive and labor activist, and semi-retired educator; Victor Drover, liberal blogger; Dale Dulberger, party activist; Perry Duman, candidate for the 60th State Assembly District; Brett Eckstein, Democratic attorney; Waring R. Fincke, vice chair, Washington County Democratic Party; Stephanie Findley, chair, 4th Congressional District Democrats; Kelly Gallaher, founding member, Community for Change; Heather Geyer, liberal columnist; Ginny Goode, Grassroots North Shore; Darcy Gustavsson, party activist; Kristin Hansen, neighborhood team leader, Obama for America and co-host, Drinking Liberally Waukesha; Robert Hansen, co-chair of Progressive Democrats of America in Milwaukee County; John Heckenlively, secretary, 1st Congressional District Democrats; Kelly Herda, treasurer, Democratic Party of Wisconsin Women's Caucus and political consultant; Robert Heule, Region 5 Chair, Democratic Party of Milwaukee County; Peter Knudsen, legislative aide and longtime Democratic staffer; Marga Krumins, candidate for 97th State Assembly District and associate chair Democratic Party of Wisconsin Women’s Caucus; Bill Kurtz, candidate for 21st Assembly District; John Lehman, state senator, 21st District; Matthew Lowe, youth outreach director, Waukesha County Democratic Party; Fran Martin, election observer for the Democratic Party and appeared in Wangaard recall ads; Tom Michalski, Oak Creek alderman; Bridget Moen, chair, Democratic Party of Ozaukee County; Meg Moen, treasure, Democratic Party of Ozaukee County; Rick Moze, party activist; Lisa Mux liberal blogger, and co-founder and co-host of Drinking Liberally Waukesha; Thad Nation, political consultant and former aide to Gov. Jim Doyle; Larry Nelson, former Waukesha mayor, current County Board supervisor and delegate to Democratic National Convention; Jason Patzfahl, liberal blogger and founding member of the Progressive 28th Political Action Committee; Jeffrey Perzan , attorney and party activist; Colin Plese, Shorewood School Board member; John Pokrandt, candidate for 13th State Assembly District; Steven Potter, communications aide, state Democratic Party; Jason Rae, Democratic National Committee member; Aaron Robertson, party activist; Chris Rockwood, candidate for 14th State Assembly District; Kristopher Rowe, party activist; Keith Schmitz, member, State Democratic Platform Committee and founding member, Grassroots North Shore; Richard Schwalb, party activist; Erin Sievert, chairwoman, Jefferson County Democrats; Kathleen Slamka, party activist; Eilene Stevens, party activist; Mike Tate, chair , Democratic Party of Wisconsin; Melissa Ugland, business owner and party activist; Sarah Wagner, community activist for Wisconsin Jobs Now; Jamie Wall, candidate for 8th Congressional District; Jim Ward, candidate, 28th State Senate District; Jane Witt, chair of Racine County Democrats; and Graeme Zielinski, communications director, Wisconsin Democratic Party.