A Wisconsin Democrat won a state Senate seat Tuesday night that had been held by a Republican for 17 years, setting off a flurry of political predictions across a state that President Donald Trump won. Republicans warned that it was a wake-up call for their party as elections loom in the fall, while Democrats cheered the upset victory as a sign of hope that Wisconsin was back in contention.
Patty Schachtner, a Democrat and the St. Croix County medical examiner, beat Rep. Adam Jarchow, a Republican member of the State Assembly, by 11 percentage points, according to preliminary election returns, decisively taking the seat in a rural western region near the Minnesota border.
“Everything is in play now,” Melanie Conklin, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said Wednesday. “This is a district that has been a very red district for a long time, and the numbers last night were very blue.”
The state’s first special election of 2018 was triggered when Gov. Scott Walker tapped a popular state senator, who had held the seat since 2000, to become his agriculture secretary.
The election comes at a tense political moment for the state, with a governor’s race and U.S. Senate seat at stake in the fall; questions about gerrymandering of state political maps in the courts; and with political observers around the nation watching all sorts of local and state races for signs of what 2018 races may bring for both parties.
In Wisconsin, political analysts and others by Wednesday were weighing how much to make of the outcome here: Should this be seen as merely meaningful as a local election with issues unique to a single district, or as a larger sign of what Republicans should expect ahead?
Walker, a Republican who won election in 2010 and is seeking re-election in November, took to Twitter on Tuesday night with a somewhat ominous assessment: “Senate District 10 special election win by a Democrat is a wake up call for Republicans in Wisconsin,” he wrote. “Can’t presume that voters know we are getting positive things done in Wisconsin. Help us share the good news.”
Speaking to reporters Wednesday morning, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said: “Typically, we’ve held this seat, and we lost this seat last night. So, yeah, I think we should pay attention to it.”
Schachtner attributed her victory to the positive tone of her campaign amid negative mailers from outside the state. “My message has always been be kind, be considerate and we need to help people when they’re down,” she told the Associated Press.
Jarchow won his seat four years ago by defeating Schachtner’s son.
The state has seen its share of political tumult over the past decade: the State Capitol was controlled by Democrats before Walker’s election in 2010, when Republicans also took control of both chambers.
Once they held a majority, Republicans redrew legislative districts in their favor. The Supreme Court is now considering whether the redistricting of the State Assembly violates the Constitution.
In 2016, Trump won Wisconsin by less than 1 percentage point; in St. Croix County, he beat Hillary Clinton by 17 percentage points. The district has typically leaned Republican, though Barack Obama won it in 2008. The 10th district, which includes parts of five counties, hugs the western border of the state, just across from the Twin Cities.
In another special election in Wisconsin on Tuesday, Rick Gundrum, a Republican, beat a Democratic challenger by 14 percentage points in a heavily Republican district northwest of Milwaukee.