Considering the candidates for WI Attorney General

I suppose we should take a moment to figure out who’s running. The race between Republican Brad Schimel and Democrat Susan Happ isn’t exactly on the front page. All that space is reserved for the he-said-she-said dialogue between gubernatorial candidates Scott Walker and Mary Burke. But the Attorney General decision will be on the ballot November 4th, so we might as well take a look.

Brad Schimel is the current Waukesha County District Attorney. Susan Happ is the current Jefferson County District Attorney. Jefferson County is adjacent and west of Waukesha County, sandwiched with Dane County to its west. I think the geography is important to our discovery. For one, the two candidates are side by side. That means voters probably don’t have a clue who these two are outside SE Wisconsin. The polling is showing just that.

Who’s who

(For the next few lines I’m going to cherry pick the MU Law Poll that was out Wednesday. I’m using likely voters. We’re growing closer to the election, so likely voters hold more sway now than registered.)

favorability happ

favorability schimel

schimel v happ

Aren’t all those columns pretty? I confess, for a political geek like myself who has suffered through the delivery of such a survey, all those lines and columns and percentages make me giggle. I spared you any cross-tabs.

The numbers showing in the favorable/unfavorable results are very important. More than 75% of those surveyed either didn’t know the candidates or hadn’t heard enough about him or her to determine how well they like them. Not to worry, though. Party favoritism allows folks to say 40.9% would vote for Republican Schimel and 38.7% would choose Democrat Happ. Party bias has already allowed Schimel to gather more voters despite his lower recognition numbers. With about 80% of the votes assigned, the work begins to earn the vote of the remaining 20%.

That’s why Schimel is now using television advertising.

Read more about the advert from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Patrick Marley.

But what about the issues?

What issues? Both candidates bounce damaging cases back and forth as though they differ from each other. The fact is, under their current jobs, they both do their best to keep the bad guys away from the good guys. If you want more details read this post from Todd Richmond writes:

Plea deals are commonplace in the criminal justice system. They enable prosecutors to avoid lengthy, expensive trials and defendants can get lighter sentences.

Exactly. Neither candidate will gain much in the way of traction by arguing the details of the other’s individual cases.

More numbers and some cash

When contemplating who will win a race, I enjoy looking at a number of angles in addition to polling. Here are a few to consider:

Will the candidate win his or her home county? Waukesha for Schimel – yes. Jefferson for Happ? Not so fast. In 2008 the county was 50/49 between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain. In 2012 Jefferson went 46% to 53% in favor of Republican Romney. That’s a hurdle for Happ.

Next we follow the money. The last fund reports show Schimel outraised and outspent Happ. New numbers are not due for another couple of weeks.

The prediction

Yes, I’m wrong all the time. Most recently it’s been the decision to decaffeinate. Let me tell you, a decision like that one has consequences! The Attorney General’s race? Probably not going to change my life quite so much. In general the decision for me will come down to wanting an AG more likely to support the Governor than not. (I’m already on record for a Walker win at 53%.) So, I’m likely to vote Schimel. For you, the idea of pushing back against Walker might mean you’ll vote Happ. Of course, that lean in or push back approach really only matters for the 20% of independent voters on this issue who will be making the decision for the rest of us.

Between the extra money and a little ride on Scott Walker’s coattails, I expect Schimel to win, but barely. Let’s say 50.5%. That number worked for J.B. Van Hollen in 2006. Less than 10,000 votes made that decision. Better make certain yours is one of the votes making this choice.

Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin.


  1. Randy in Richmond says:

    It’s a slow Thursday afternoon. Perusing the numbers in the charts show exceptionally even numbers and believe me, I have no dog in this fight. But Happ’s unfavorables being twice that of
    Schimel raises the proverbial red flag of why that result is skewed relative to the others. That’s not a “I don’t know” answer. From afar I give an edge to Schimel because – it’s a slow Thursday afternoon.