Word is that Sen. John Lehman (D-Racine) is the Republicans' top target in its attempts to take control of the State Senate this year. Lehman, who benefitted from a Democratic wave election in 2006 and won the swing district with only 53 percent of the vote, is now seen as more vulnerable than Sens. Jim Sullivan (Wauwatosa) and Kathleen Vinehout (Alma), both of whom the GOP sees as likely victims of a backlash against the Democratic leadership in Madison and D.C.
Lehman's victory depends on a strong turnout from the district's core Democratic constituency in Racine, in addition to a respectable margin of the vote in the conservative suburbs.
A look at the three Assembly districts in the area gives an indication of the political dynamics of the Senate district. Rep. Bob Turner represents the heavily Democratic city of Racine. As one source told me last week, Turner's strong links to Racine's black community is crucial for Lehman.
However, the other two Assembly districts prove less hospitable to Democrats. Although the GOP didn't even challenge Cory Mason in 2008, the liberal Democrat's margin of victory in 2006 against Terry Van Wanggaard, who is now challenging Lehman, was a modest 1000 votes. Like a dutiful Democrat, however, Mason is out doing doors for Lehman.
The most hostile district is the one represented by Robin Vos (R-New Caledonia). Vos is a right-wing Republican who was won each of his elections since 2004 with convincing margins, despite the Democratic waves in 2006 and 2008. A devoted soldier in the GOP's election year army, Vos will likely be rallying the troops on the Southeast area's powerful talk radio circuit against Lehman.
Since Van Wanggaard has already campaigned in the district, he has the benefit of limited name recognition.
Lehman's ascension to the "top target" does not imply that Sullivan is in any way safe. Sullivan is still very much a tempting target for the energized Republican base in the Milwaukee suburbs. GOP insiders are confident they can take him down. Vinehout's seat, is a less sure thing, as is the maintenance of the Door County seat being vacated by Alan Lasee. In both instances, the GOP candidates, Ed Thompson and Frank Lasee, respectively, are loose cannons.