A small-town medical examiner has given Democrats across the country another shot of hope heading into the fall election by upsetting a Republican legislator in a conservative Wisconsin state Senate district.
Patty Schachtner’s victory Tuesday over state Rep. Adam Jarchow marks the 34th legislative seat that has flipped from Republican to Democrat nationwide since President Donald Trump took office last year, according to the national Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, signaling backlash against Trump could fuel a Democratic wave in November.
Gov. Scott Walker, who is running for a third term in November, sounded a warning, firing a flurry of tweets late Tuesday urging Republicans to “wake up.”
He told reporters Wednesday in Milwaukee that dissatisfaction with national politics influenced Schachtner’s win. He stopped just short of blaming Trump or GOP congressional members.
“Washington and Wisconsin are two very different places,” Walker said. “I think people look at Washington and think there’s not as much getting done as maybe some people had hoped.”
Democrats have already made gains elsewhere, including picking up 15 seats in the Virginia state House in November and in Alabama, where Doug Jones captured a U.S. Senate seat last month.
In the past two weeks, high-profile Republicans passed up Senate races in North Dakota and Minnesota that were thought to be winnable seats. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty cited the tough outlook as one reason for skipping a run to replace former Democratic Sen. Al Franken.
Wisconsin’s Walker has refused to call a special election for another open state Senate seat, last held by a Republican, meaning it will remain vacant all year until a replacement is selected in the fall.
Schachtner’s win is especially notable in Wisconsin, where Democratic numbers are at their lowest since 1971 in the state Senate. Even with the victory, the GOP still holds an 18-14 edge in the Senate.
The district in northwestern Wisconsin—a mix of rural areas, small towns and two larger college towns just across the St. Croix River from Minnesota’s Twin Cities—has trended deeply Republican for years.
Mitt Romney won it by 6 points in 2012 and Trump won it by 17 points in 2016. Former Republican Rep. Sheila Harsdorf held the seat from 2001 until November when she resigned to become Walker’s agriculture secretary.
Schachtner was the clear underdog, with a bio that included serving as the St. Croix County medical examiner and starring in a 2006 “Wife Swap” episode in which she trades families with a modeling agency manager.
Jarchow is a political veteran in the middle of his third state Assembly and conservative outside groups rallied behind him. Americans for Prosperity and the Republican State Leadership Committee both ran ads supporting Jarchow. Republican state Sen. Leah Vukmir, who is running for U.S. Senate, traveled to the district to campaign for him.
Schachtner won by 11 points.
“Thanks to you, we have sparked hope throughout Wisconsin and the nation,” Schachtner said in a statement to her supporters.
Wisconsin Democratic Party chair Martha Laning was more effusive, posting on Facebook following Schachtner’s win that a “change is coming!!!”
In a statement, the party said the result shows a national Democratic wave is swelling, fueled by voter anger toward Trump and his allies.