Nov. 09–Wisconsin voters delivered a mixed verdict on Paul Ryan this week.
His House constituents returned him to Congress. They also voted narrowly for the Mitt Romney-Ryan ticket.
But his congressional victory margin was his smallest ever (11.5 points).
He lost his hometown of Janesville twice: by 10 points for Congress and by 25 points for vice president.
And the GOP ticket lost the battleground state of Wisconsin by 7 points in a race Republicans thought would be far closer. In Ryan’s southern Wisconsin district, the Romney-Ryan ticket ran about 3 points behind Ryan the congressional candidate.
In the end, there’s little in the numbers to suggest Ryan provided a meaningful home-state boost to Romney.
Ryan, expected to continue on as House budget chair, is on everybody’s shortlist of potential Republican presidential candidates in 2016.
Here are some yardsticks for measuring his election performance in Wisconsin Tuesday:
Ryan in his hometown. Democratic congressional challenger Rob Zerban defeated Ryan in Janesville 55% to 44%. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden defeated the Romney-Ryan ticket in Janesville 62% to 37%. Ryan had never lost Janesville in a re-election campaign before. Of course, he had only faced token opposition in past re-election races. Janesville is also a Democratic city that gave Obama 66% of its vote in 2008.
But even in Ryan’s backyard, there’s not much evidence of a Ryan boost to Romney. The drop-off from the Ryan congressional vote to the Romney-Ryan presidential vote was much larger in Janesville (7.2 points) than it was in the rest of the congressional district (3 points). Put another way, there were more Ryan ticket-splitters in Janesville than other places: people who voted for Ryan for Congress but against Ryan for vice president.
Ryan’s congressional district. Ryan won his previous House re-election campaigns with 63% to 68% of the vote. He got 55% this time. As noted above, he had very weak opponents in those races. Democrat Zerban was a first-time federal candidate but ended up raising more than $2 million, thanks to national interest on the left in unseating Ryan. The incumbent was still favored heavily and while he didn’t actively campaign for Congress, he spent more than $5 million on his House race.
How did the Romney-Ryan ticket do with Ryan’s own constituents? Presidential results aren’t gathered by congressional district on election night. But when you aggregate the unofficial vote returns from the different counties, communities and wards that make up Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, it adds up to a narrow win for Romney, 51.6% to 47.4%. (Ryan’s district was just redrawn slightly; Romney would have won Ryan’s old district by less). Romney’s margin in Ryan’s modestly Republican district is consistent with historic patterns. Romney did 5 points better in Ryan’s district than he did in Wisconsin as a whole. Four years ago, Republican John McCain did 5 points better in the district than he did in Wisconsin as a whole.
Ryan and Wisconsin. Many Republicans thought Ryan improved their chances of winning the state. Obama’s lead in the polls narrowed in Wisconsin after he was picked. But that didn’t last. Ryan may have pumped up the GOP base here, but in Wisconsin, the base was pretty pumped up already.
In the Wisconsin exit poll, 51% of voters said they had a favorable image of Ryan, compared to 47% for Romney. But in the end, the Romney-Ryan vote in Wisconsin was almost identical to the Republican vote for U.S. Senate in Wisconsin. And it lagged a few points behind the national Republican vote, just as it did four years ago. Both are reminders of the limited impact of vice presidential candidates on presidential races.
You can argue that Ryan’s presence on the ticket did more to tamp down his own congressional vote than to lift up Romney’s presidential vote in Wisconsin. It certainly helped his opponent raise money, fueling the most serious campaign against Ryan since he took office 14 years ago. And Ryan’s huge national profile in a highly partisan role made for a more polarizing re-election race, costing Ryan some independent and Democratic votes that he won in the past.