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The recent Waukesha mayoral election proves that the political climate in the City of Waukesha and Waukesha County are far from identical.
Despite playing down their partisan roots in a non-partisan race, it was clear to most that long-languishing fellow Democrats came out in large numbers to elect Ald. Larry Nelson to succeed Carol Lombardi as the next city leader, defeating state Rep. Ann Nischke, R-Waukesha.
Nischke was avidly supported by some of the county's leading Republicans while Nelson was backed by Democrats. Nischke supported the controversial follow-up to TABOR, the "Taxpayer Protection Amendment," while Nelson opposed it.
While Waukesha is largely known as a GOP stronghold for its votes in state and national politics, the county also often boasts the third-largest number of Democratic voters in the state, owing to its larger-than-usual turnout numbers at most elections.
And many of those Democrats live in the county's largest city, which has more in common from an issue perspective with the city of Milwaukee than it does with neighboring cities like Brookfield and Pewaukee.
In the wake of Nelson's 4,660-4,166 victory margin -- which gave him nearly 53 percent of the vote on April 4 -- both candidates tended to play down the partisan aspect of their non-partisan race.
Nischke, elected as a Republican to the state Legislature since 2002, said she believed the election turned on what she called a low voter turnout. Twenty-two percent of the city voters came to the polls Tuesday, compared to only 12 percent in the February primary.
She vowed to continue on as state representative in the area, which will stymie the plans of several GOP stalwarts who had already been planning to run for her seat if she won election as mayor.
Nelson's victory party featured many of the county's Democratic faithful, but he said his backers extended beyond one party. "I can tell you, without a doubt, that there are Democrats, there are Republicans, there are independents, and there are people who never voted (before) who helped us get this victory today," Nelson said.
Nelson has been visible as a leader of the county's Democratic Party for many years, serving as a delegate to state and national political conventions on many occasions. He was also backed by organized labor and a group called Progressive Majority that Dem strategists say helped Nelson with fundraising, strategy, planning, mail and phone programs, and more.
Nelson, who is a teacher, also cited union help for his victory. "I just have to say, for those people who think organized labor is dead -- apparently not in the city of Waukesha," Nelson added.
One area that both candidates agreed on was that the TPA was a factor. "I think the fact that the race was as close as it was says that taxes are an issue," Nischke said. She has supported TABOR and said she will continue to push for revenue caps.
Nelson said his victory was a rebuke of the GOP machine and state Republican leaders as well as TABOR. The alderman said he would support a resolution on today's Waukesha Common Council agenda that repudiates the amendment.
Nischke spent $34,000 on the race through the March 20 reporting period, tripling the $11,000 Nelson spent up to that point.
Dennis Shook, a contributor to the WisPolitics.com Milwaukee Notes, can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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