The Democrats flipped a long-time GOP seat in the 2018 Wisconsin legislative special election that Scott Walker didn’t want to call and in a district that Donald Trump handily won, increasing talk of a looming “blue wave” in the often-purple state with a polarizing Republican governor. However, another seat stayed Republican in the low-turnout contests, sending a conflicting message about the whims of the electorate in this closely-watched swing state.
Walker is up for re-election in November 2018, and he’s facing an electorate already hardened into different camps by his collective bargaining and other reforms. Although he’s survived a recall and a failed presidential bid, Walker himself has raised the prospect of a so-called “blue wave,” which may have been a real concern, an attempt to energize the Republican base, or both (Trump won the state, overturning years of Democratic victories in presidential contests in Wisconsin, but the margin was extremely small.)
According to the Hill, the Democratic victory in Wisconsin marked the 25th time that Democrats flipped a Republican district in a special election since Trump’s inauguration. The victories in the special election could be short-lived, though. The winning candidates have to run again in November to retain their seats. However, it’s what the results could portend about Trump and Walker that’s causing the buzz and Democratic excitement, even as Republicans sought to downplay the meaning of the win because of the mixed result and low turnout.
Some analysts say it’s risky to predict presidential races especially from localized special elections. For starters, special elections do have much lower turnout than gubernatorial or presidential elections. They may turn on local personalities or issues. However, the elections are still being closely watched as a possible canary in the mine for 2020 as well as for the governor’s race. Vox has found that Democrats are outperforming presidential election margins in special elections throughout the country – 74 to be exact. That all being said, it wouldn’t be the first time Trump had defied prognostications were he to run and prevail in 2020, and Walker has survived two elections and a bitter recall. In the governor’s race, the Democrats are fractured at the moment into a multi-candidate field with no clear front runner and no candidate with very strong name recognition.
Here’s what you need to know:
The Democrat Flipped a Seat That Was Held by Republicans for Decades
The election results that are getting Democrats excited came from Wisconsin’s 1st Senate District, where the Democrat Caleb Frostman defeated Republican state Assemblyman Andre Jacque; Frostman had 51.4 percent of the vote to 48.6 for Jacque. “I will let your feedback and our shared values guide me in my work as your State Senator,” Frostman said, according to WBAY-TV. Frostman was the Door County Economic Development Corporation’s Executive Director. The GOP had held the district’s Senate seat for 40 years.
The Senate District is located in the Fox Valley, which is an important area of the state for any candidate running statewide. It is near Green Bay. The Valley is considered more of a swing area in Wisconsin than other regions of the state with polarized electorates (such as Waukesha County, which is heavily Republican, and Dane and Milwaukee Counties, which are heavily Democratic.) Specifically, the district encompasses all of Kewaunee and Door counties, and portions of Manitowoc, Calumet, Outagamie and Brown counties.
Walker won the district by 23 points in 2014, and Trump won it by 18 points in 2016.
You can see the election results on the state website here.
Areas Jacque won: The portion of the district in Brown County; Kewaunee County; and the portion of the district in Manitowoc County.
Areas Frostman won: The portion of the district in Calumet County; Door County; and the portion of the district that lies in Outagamie County.
A Republican Prevailed in Another GOP District
Dousing the Democratic excitement somewhat and giving Republicans something to hold onto: There was a second special election on the ballot on June 12, 2018. In this one, the Republican held onto the seat, which, as with the 1st Senate District, was previously occupied by the GOP. Republicans maintain control of the state Senate and Assembly in Wisconsin. The district is located near Madison.
The second race occurred in the 42nd Assembly District race, where Republican Jon Plumer defeated Democrat Ann Groves Lloyd. Both seats on the ballot on June 12 were vacated through resignations (by Senator Frank Lasee and Representative Keith Ripp.) This is a district that Walker won by 9 points and Trump by 14.
Areas Plumer won: The portions of the district in Dodge County; Fond du Lac County; Green Lake County; Marquette County, and Columbia County.
Areas Lloyd Won: The portions of the district in Dane County.
Walker Opposed the Special Elections but a Judge Ordered Them
Scott Walker wasn’t going to call the special elections for the contests, but a judge in Dane County ordered that he had to do so. The lawsuit was ignited by an Eric Holder-led national Democratic organization. The judge ruled that Walker misinterpreted state law, according to Madison.com.
There Have Been Other Signs in Wisconsin of a Looming ‘Blue Wave’
In January 2018, Democrats flipped another legislative seat that was long held by Republicans in Wisconsin, prompting Walker to tweet, “Senate District 10 special election win by a Democrat is a wake up call for Republicans in Wisconsin.” In that district, the outgoing Republican had won by 26 percentage points in 2016, and Trump carried the area by 17 points.
That was followed by a major victory in the state Supreme Court race in spring 2018 by the Democratic-backed candidate. In recent years, conservatives had won a series of supreme court races in Wisconsin, seizing control of the court.