Wisconsin Democrats plan to spend $7 million on television ads in five state Senate races they believe are key to regaining control of the chamber, the biggest ad buy of its kind Democrats in the state have ever made in legislative races.

Wisconsin, a perennial swing state, is no stranger to big spending on high profile races. But the money typically goes to top of the ticket statewide races, not contests for the Legislature where Republicans have held a strong majority for more than a decade.

For example, this one ad buy is nearly half of the money Democrats spent in the 2022 cycle on all legislative races in both the Senate and Assembly. That year, legislative candidates and outside groups spent a total of just over $41 million on legislative races, $17 million of that coming from Democrats, according to a tally by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

By comparison, Democrats and their allies spent nearly $88 million on the 2022 Wisconsin governor’s race, part of the record-high $164 million spent on the contest won by Democrat Tony Evers.

“This speaks to the excitement that we’ve got and the confidence we have in our candidates,” said Andrew Whitley, executive director of the State Senate Democratic Committee.

The buy will target races in Milwaukee’s northern suburbs, the rural areas north of Madison, the Fox Cities, Green Bay and La Crosse.

Republicans currently hold a 22-10 supermajority in the 33-seat Senate, but Democrats hope new district boundaries Gov. Tony Evers signed in February will help them chip away at the GOP advantage.

Sixteen Senate seats are up in November, including eight currently held by Republicans and four open seats. Four Democrats are not up for re-election this cycle; that means Democrats need to win 13 seats in November to gain the majority. In a sign of how the new maps have energized the party, Democrats have put up a candidate in every Senate race on the ballot for the first time in more than 20 years.

Democrats plan to run ads in the 8th Senate District, which includes Milwaukee’s conservative leaning northern suburbs. The new maps pulled Republican Sen. Duey Stroebel out of his old district and put him in the 8th, where he’ll face Democrat Jodi Habush Sinykin.

Ads are also on tap in the redrawn 14th District, which covers parts of Columbia, Marquette, Green Lake and Waupaca counties. Democrats Sarah Keyeski is running against GOP incumbent Joan Ballweg there.

The committee also will target the 18th District, which now runs from Appleton south to Oshkosh along Lake Winnebago’s western shore. The seat is open, with Democrats Kristin Alfheim and Joseph Carmen and Republicans Anthony Phillips and Blong Yang are all running.

Ads are slated for the 30th District as well. That district covers the western shore of the bay of Green Bay, from the city of Green Bay north to Marinette. The seat is open. Democrat Jamie Wall and Republican Jim Rafter are running for it.

The last district in the committee’s ad buy is the 32nd in western Wisconsin, where Republican Stacey Klein is looking to unseat Democratic incumbent Brad Pfaff.

Whitley said Democrats picked those districts because President Joe Biden and Gov. Tony Evers won them in 2020 and 2022, respectively, suggesting Democratic legislative candidates stand a good chance of success in them. The ads will be tailored to the issues in each district and will begin airing after Wisconsin’s August 13 primary, he said.

Senate Republican Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said that voters will see the ads as another attempt by liberals to buy control of government institutions.

Todd Richmond

Associated Press

MADISON, Wisconsin

John Touscany (via Shutterstock)