What happens when the Democratic Party of Wisconsin only has one middle-of-the-road candidate for governor? Ironically, it pushes many other Democratic candidates for office to the left. The lack of competition in the Democratic gubernatorial primary (sorry Tim John) combined with the competitive GOP governors primary means that only the most faithful Democrats will be voting in September. The attempts to court the liberal electorate will be apparent in the platforms of many primary candidates.
I've already discussed how this is displayed by Lt. Gov. candidate Henry Sanders. The Madison businessman is touting marriage equality as the "key to economic recovery," even though the guy at the top of the ticket (whose name comes up in practically every other sentence of a Sanders press release), Tom Barrett, is reluctant to stake out a firm position on gay marriage. Expect Sanders to come out with other positions manufactured to appeal to the left in the coming weeks and months.
This of course brings into question the strategy of his opponent, Tom Nelson, whose major theme seems to be his history of representing moderate voters and beating Republicans. Nelson's campaign may have to rethink its messaging, and compete with Sanders and Coggs for progressive credentials if he wishes to stay competitive. It's no surprise that when I interviewed Coggs he claimed to have the "best progressive record in the state."
Another primary I've been discussing, between Sen. Jeff Plale and Milwaukee Supervisor Chris Larson, showcases the importance of a competitive Republican primary on Democratic voters. Although Plale has a lot of support in the area, many of his moderate or conservative voters may not be at the polls to support him this year because they will opt to vote in the more highly publicized contest between Scott Walker and Mark Neumann.
Even in the Democratic primary for the 77th Assembly district, which has and always will be reliably liberal, the multiple candidates will likely find an even stricter litmus test on progressive issues from primary voters than usual. Why? Because in a year when Democratic enthusiasm is down, only the die-hard primary voters will be coming out. Hence, attacks against Brett Hulsey's advocacy for clean coal will likely be stronger political currency than in 2006.
There are definitely plenty of other examples of the phenomenon all over the state.