News outlets in Wisconsin and across the country have been covering the midterm elections a lot. But why are these elections so important?
That's what one Wisconsinite texted us, as part of our Informed Voter series — a collaboration between WUWM and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to answer questions texted to us from potential Wisconsin voters.
Craig Gilbert, the Journal Sentinel’s Washington bureau chief, joined us to help answer that question. He says it’s a big deal for many reasons, other than just the fact it’s the first midterm under President Donald Trump. Plus, the experienced political reporter shares what he hopes to learn from Wisconsin's midterm elections.
1. Control of Congress could change
“There’s the question of what role will Congress play with respect the president?” Gilbert suggests. “The thinking right now is the Democrats have a better chance of gaining a majority of the House than they do in the Senate because of the mix of Senate seats that are up. If that happens, that obviously ends monopoly rule in Washington, it ends unified government in Washington. That is a very big deal and it has huge consequences."
2. Lots of key states are voting on a new governor
“This is the cycle when most governorships are up on the ballots in a lot of key states, like Wisconsin,” Gilbert says. “So, again, huge consequences for the policies and laws that are adopted in these states. Huge consequences for future political control of these states.”
In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker has been a central figure and people have strong feelings about him. If Trump voters don’t turn out to vote, Gilbert says that would hurt Walker.
“He’s got this awkward relationship, just like Paul Ryan, where I think even the pro-Trump people know in their heat of hearts that he’s not a model, he’s not a Trump clone,” says Gilbert. “On the other hand, some voters will vote against [Walker] because they don’t like Trump.
3. It could be pivotal for some political careers
“This sometimes matters because it’s out of elections like this that we see future presidential candidates graduating in many cases,” Gilbert says.
4. It’s a referendum on the president
While other Presidents have laid low during the run-up to the midterm election, Gilbert says one thing that’s different this year is the fact that Trump is putting himself front and center – he’s campaigning, always seeking to dominate the news cycle.
“Midterms are always about the president to some degree,” Gilbert explains. “We see from historical patterns just the fact that the President’s party almost always loses ground in the midterm elections because people are generally one side is more motivated than the other and it’s usually the anti-side that’s usually motivated than the pro-side.
5. It’ll help us reinterpret what happened in the 2016 elections
The voter swings were dramatic in the north, south and central parts of Wisconsin, Gilbert says.
“The swings were so dramatic from Obama to Trump. You had all these Obama, Trump communities — hundreds and hundreds of them,” he says. “To what degree, if at all, do these communities swing back?”
But, as we’ve learned, there’s a large margin of error in this conversation.
“Yes, everything we think we know may be wrong,” says Gilbert.