MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Democrats captured one of two open legislative seats that had been in Republican hands in special elections Tuesday, a pickup the party was certain to tout as more evidence of momentum heading into the November election.
Democrat Caleb Frostman beat GOP state Rep. Andre Jacque in the 1st Senate District, while fellow Democrat Ann Groves Lloyd conceded her race to Republican Jon Plumer in the 42nd Assembly District.
Frostman's win marks the 43rd legislative seat to flip since President Donald Trump took office. Still, Democrats had hopes of winning both races even though the two districts have trended Republican over the last 20 years. They have talked of a "blue wave" since they won an open seat in the traditionally conservative northwestern Wisconsin 10th state Senate District in January and liberal-backed Rebecca Dallet won a spot on the state Supreme Court in April.
As it is, the draw leaves Republicans with a 64-35 advantage in the Assembly and an 18-15 edge in the Senate. The Legislature isn't expected to convene again until January, which means Frostman and Plumer probably won't vote on anything before they have to run for re-election in November. Both Jacque and Lloyd have registered to run, setting up a rematch in both districts.
Tuesday's results give both parties plenty of talking points heading into November, though. Republicans can claim that Plumer's win signals they've blocked the Democrats' push and are in good shape for the fall. Democrats can claim Frostman's win shows momentum is still on their side.
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos tweeted Plumer's win, saying Democrats' blue wave weakened to a "blue trickle" that hit a "red wall" in his chamber.
Frostman, the former executive director of the Door County Economic Development Corporation, immediately looked ahead to a November rematch with Jacque.
"Our work doesn't stop here," Frostman said. "The fall elections will change the future of our state and I hope my support network will grow as we work to get re-elected in the fall."
"The momentum is palpable in Wisconsin, where we've already seen massive swings in our direction in SD-10 and the state Supreme Court race," the Democratic National Committee said in a statement, referring to two earlier election wins in Wisconsin this year.
Jacque predicted he will prevail in November when turnout will be higher.
"It's a June special election," Jacque said. "It's obviously going to be a lot different ball game in November."
Plumer didn't return a voicemail Tuesday evening.
Lloyd said she didn't have much time to campaign because Gov. Scott Walker didn't schedule the elections until late March. Now, though, she has built a network, she said.
"I'm excited to get a chance to spend the next five months getting to know the district and the people in the district even better," she said.
The two seats had been vacant since December, when Walker appointed Republicans incumbents Frank Lasee and Keith Ripp to his administration. Walker refused to call elections as required by state law until he lost a court battle.
Voters in the 42nd Assembly District said Tuesday that they were split over whether the outcome will portend anything for the midterms.
"We can sit here and make all the predictions you want, I think it's a lot of hoopla," said Mike Busser, 51, a business owner in Lodi who voted for Plumer.
A Lloyd voter, 79-year-old Ardell Christianson, said that no matter who wins, it will be an accurate picture of which party has momentum for the fall. She said she thinks Walker delayed calling the election "because Republicans are afraid."
Voters on both sides decried how nasty the campaign had become. Lodi's Earl Bilkey, 77, said he's a Democrat but that he voted for the Republican Plumer because he thought Plumer could get more done than Lloyd. But Bilkey was also conflicted.
"I don't know how I can vote for the person I like given all the mud he's slung," Bilkey said.