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“The political center of the universe:” What lies ahead for politics in Wisconsin in 2015?

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MADISON (WITI) -- November's midterm elections are in the rear-view mirror, but what lies ahead on Wisconsin's political path, and what role will presidential politics play in the Badger State?

Politics in Wisconsin in 2015 will largely be determined by national politics in 2016. In other words, the coming presidential race will cast a shadow over every move and maneuver in Madison and no one will be watched more closely in Wisconsin that Governor Scott Walker.

"Wisconsin is becoming the political center of the universe," Brett Baier said.

Baier, the chief political anchor for FOX News Channel says Walker's presidential prospects have been strengthened with his re-election victory.

"I think there's a good chance that he's going to run.  From everything we hear in Washington, and out-and-about, that he's definitely an attractive candidate," Baier said.

Walker's first priority in Wisconsin will be to pass a budget -- typically signed in June.

"There's more things we can do to just make government more accountable, more efficient and more effective for the people of this state," Governor Walker said.

Walker initially signaled he doesn't intend to make confrontational moves. He said another battle with unions over "right to work" legislation was essentially off the table.

"It would bring in another group of protesters to the Capitol in large volume, and would distract from all the other things -- tax reform, education reform, entitlement reform, UW reform, all the other things we want to do going forward," Governor Walker said.

The agenda could be dictated by an emboldened Legislature -- where Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) says "right to work" will be debated at the beginning of 2015.

"That really would be a mistake for him to do that because it would be bad for Wisconsin, bad for the middle class," Stephanie Bloomingdale with the Wisconsin AFL-CIO said.

Union leaders are bracing for a showdown on the scale of the Act 10 protests.

"We are ready for anything because the politics here in Wisconsin are very turbulent as we all know," Bloomingdale said.

A potential confrontation with unions could complicate Walker's presidential prospects. On one hand, massive protests would again focus attention nationally on Wisconsin, but on the other hand, the possibility of something going wrong is always there.

"In the big picture, a lot of people from the outside are going to be looking at Walker and what he does on the inside," Baier said.

Republicans will pretty much be able to do whatever they want. The Legislature is even more solidly Republican now than it was when Walker swept into power in 2010.

"It's an even more Republican state Assembly and a more Republican state Senate," UW-Milwaukee Professor of Governmental Affairs Mordecai Lee said.

Almost two-thirds of the Assembly is controlled by Republicans -- a 63-36 majority.

Before the midterm election, the Wisconsin GOP held an 18-15 advantage in the state Senate. Now, Republicans have a 19-14 edge.

"This is for the next two years, I guess what you'd call 'a no excuses period.' In other words, during this period they can pass whatever legislation they want as long as it's constitutional.  They can't claim that anyone is stopping them from doing that," Lee said.

Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) lost in a bid to take the Assembly minority role from Peter Barca (D-Kenosha), but has advice for his party:

"Going forward for Democrats, I think it's a sign that we need a new voice. We have to go throughout the state and listen. We need to sit down at kitchen tables and factories throughout the state and understand why the values of the Democratic Party didn't connect with voters," Rep. Goyke said.

Speculation will swirl around which Democratic leader steps up to take on Republican U.S. Senator Ron Johnson. Could it be Russ Feingold in a rematch? Or Congressman Ron Kind? Or possibly Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele?

History says the Democrats have a good chance of taking the seat. A Wisconsin Republican hasn't won a Senate seat in a presidential year since Bob Kasten beat Gaylord Nelson in 1980.

"Senator Johnson has a much bigger challenge running on a presidential ballot in 2016 than he did running not only in a midterm in 2010, but a Republican wave year in 2010," Craig Gilbert with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel said.

The party's 2014 standard bearer Mary Burke says she won't run again statewide, but will run again for her seat on the Madison School Board.

The soul searching may not last long.

The state party will begin building a ground game for the 2016 candidate in a traditional battleground that has gone for Democrats in each presidential election since the Reagan landslide in 1984 -- meaning Republicans could find a tougher landscape in 2016.

"Demographically, they're not as well positioned in 2016. They're defending 24 seats.  It's going to be a tough 2016 depending on what happens over the next two years in Washington," Baier said.

"We're a two-color state.  We're a red state, a Republican state in midterm elections, and we're a blue state, a Democratic state in presidential elections," Lee said.

In Washington, Ron Johnson will take over the chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee while Paul Ryan will assume the role of chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

"Ways and Means Committee is the most important committee in Congress in my opinion," Ryan said.

"That would make him sort of the fourth most powerful person in the federal government in Washington, D.C., and it would be a job he could have for the entire foreseeable future," Lee said.

Ryan himself is the subject of much presidential speculation. He says his decision will come sometime after the first of the year.

"I've said I'll make that decision early in 2015," Ryan said.