Wisconsin Special Election Results Draw National Headlines

10th District Senator-Elect Patty Schachtner

While only 15 percent of voters turned out to elect a new senator in Wisconsin’s open 10th state Senate District last Tuesday, the results have caused a stir nationwide.

Democrat Patty Schachtner won the western Wisconsin seat with 55 percent of the vote over Republican Assembly Rep. Adam Jarchow (R-Balsam Lake).  Schachtner’s margin of victory is a 27 percent difference from what President Trump beat Hillary Clinton by in the district and an over 30 percent difference in former Sen. Sheila Harsdorf’s (R-River Falls) margin over her Democratic opponent in 2016.

The victory by Schachtner marked another dramatic shift in electoral results favoring Democrats in an election leading up to the 2018 mid-terms.  On their own, each instance could be explained away (the Republicans lost the U.S. Senate race in Alabama because Roy Moore was an unfavorable candidate), but as they aggregate, many are saying it is a clear indication of what is to come in 2018.

Without digging too deep into the results, this Wisconsin election had its own unique qualities.  The 10th district is largely a rural, white, older district that voted heavily for Trump.  There are few minorities, the college kids were on break, and the “Never-Trump” movement hasn’t scratched the surface in the 10th.  In addition to a demographic breakout favorable to Republicans, they had a current Assemblyman running who benefited from higher name identification, and a significant financial advantage.  And while Gov. Walker referred to the results as a “wakeup call” for Wisconsin Republicans, the insiders knew going in that this race was vitally important, and they approached it as such, spending tens of thousands to try to keep the seat red.

The makeup of the district and race is why the Schachtner victory was newsworthy.  Google “Democrat wins in Wisconsin” and you’ll see stories from across the country reporting the victory.  Mostly it is used to predict a coming referendum on Trump rather than having much to do with Wisconsin’s 10th Senate district.  In Wisconsin, both parties are well aware of the potential implications.  For Republicans, it allows them to circle the wagons with a sense of urgency and gives them 10 months to stem any potential tide.  For Democrats, it gives them continued momentum which should help them recruit better candidates and raise more money.

Even with the national momentum seemingly favoring Democrats, very few believed they could win the 10th going into election day, similar to how no one thought Trump could win Wisconsin in 2016.  Meaning going into 2018 one thing is clear:  No one really knows what will happen until the votes are counted.

For more on 2018 elections, visit our elections Issue Update.