The upset win by Democrat Patty Schachtner in what had been a Republican Senate stronghold not only gave Democrats new bragging rights. It also highlighted the November Senate elections that will determine party control of the Senate next session.

Senate elections with no incumbents in northeast and western Wisconsin, and battles in southwest and northwest Wisconsin where first-term senators are seeking re-election, will determine whether Republicans keep Senate control they have had since 2011,

When Schachtner takes her Senate, Republicans will have 18-14 control of the Senate. One vacancy won’t be filled until November.

Schachtner, the St. Croix County medical examiner, got an unofficial 54 percent of the votes in Tuesday’s 10th District election, beating Republican Rep. Adam Jarchow.

Since 2001, Republican Sen. Sheila Harsdorf had represented that western Wisconsin district bordering Minnesota. Harsdorf resigned to become state secretary of agriculture.

In 2016, Harsdorf was re-elected with 63 percent of the vote; in 2012, she got 59 percent.

Schachtner refused to say an anti-President Trump backlash elected her. Trump won the 10th District by a 17-point margin in November 2016.

“It wasn’t Trump or Paul Ryan’s race, it was District 10’s race,” Schachtner told a reporter. “I focused on western Wisconsin and western Wisconsin values.”

But how much the loss stunned Republicans was illustrated by a blunt tweet from GOP Gov. Scott Walker, who is seeking a third term in November.

“WAKE UP CALL: Can’t presume that voters know we are getting positive things done in Wisconsin. Help us share the good news,” Walker tweeted.

Walker campaign spokesman Brian Reisinger said the governor has rebounded before, and will again: “We’ve had to mobilize our grass-roots army before—most notably, the recall effort in 2012. ... We will do it again.”

State Republican Party spokesman Alec Zimmerman noted the party will double—from four to eight—its regional offices.

He added: “The stakes are too high to sit on the sidelines and Wisconsin Republicans will be redoubling our efforts to engage supporters and take our message of results directly to voters.”

In another Tuesday special election, Republican Rick Gundrum won the 58th Assembly seat vacant because of the death of Republican Bob Gannon.

Although Gannon was unopposed in 2016 and 2014 elections in what was has been another Republican stronghold, Gundrum’s Democratic opponent, Dennis Degenhardt, got a respectable 43 percent of the vote Tuesday.

But Democratic control of the Senate may only come if:

  • Democrats hold Senate District 31, which has been represented by Democratic Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, of Alma, since 2007. One of 16 or 17 Democratic candidates for governor, Vinehout won re-election in 2014 with only 52 percent of the vote.
  • Democrats also hold Senate District 25, where Democratic Sen. Janet Bewley, of Mason, is seeking a second term. Bewley was elected in 2014 by an even tighter margin—51 percent—than Vinehout.
  • Democrats oust first-term Republican Sen. Howard Marklein, of Spring Green, in the 17th District. Marklein won with 55 percent of the vote four years ago and has used his Joint Finance Committee seat to help write tax-code changes and bring home projects for UW-Platteville.
  • Democrats can win the open 1st District seat vacant because former GOP Sen. Frank Lasee, who took a job with the Walker Administration. But only two Republicans—Alan Lasee and his relative Frank—have represented that district since 1977.

Still, veteran pollster and Marquette University Professor Charles Franklin said Democratic gains in the 10th Senate and 58th Assembly districts show “considerable reason for Republicans to be concerned and Democrats optimistic.”

He explained: “The 58th Assembly and 10th Senate districts are each considerably more Republican-leaning than the state as a whole.

“Yet each saw large swings in the Democratic direction, with Democrats winning Senate District 10 by a 10-point margin, in a district Trump won by 17 points.

“Perhaps more importantly, in District 10 the swing was fairly equal across all the wards in the district, both suburban and more rural parts of the district. Likewise turnout shifted about the same regardless of Trump support in 2016, suggesting these results were more about changing preferences than a greater drop in turnout among Trump voters.”

Tuesday’s elections let state Democratic Party Chair Martha Laning have—at least temporarily—the last word: “Change is coming.”

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. Contact him at stevenscotwalters@gmail.com.

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