Don’t take it from Wisconsin Democrats when they say that a surprise win Tuesday night in a special election for the state Senate signals that right-wing Republican Governor Scott Walker is in political trouble. Take it from Walker, the hyper-ambitious careerist who crashed and burned as a 2016 presidential contender but is now bidding for a third gubernatorial term.
After Democrat Patty Schachtner won a seat representing a district that backed Donald Trump by a 55-38 margin in 2016, Walker tweeted: “Senate District 10 special election win by a Democrat is a wake up call for Republicans in Wisconsin.”
Walker will still raise plenty of money this year from the out-of-state campaign donors, including the Koch brothers, who have always been his most ardent supporters. The antiunion zealot will still engage in the relentlessly negative campaigning that he has always resorted to in tough races. But in an election season that looks like it could be defined by disenchantment with Donald Trump and his enablers, the governor is suddenly sounding—and acting—politically vulnerable.
There’s no question that the Trump factor influenced the special-election result in Wisconsin. “President Donald Trump—along with Speaker Paul Ryan and Gov. Scott Walker who support and prop him up—are toxically unpopular and divisive,” the state Democratic Party declared Tuesday night. “Republicans focus on ultra-wealthy donors, rather than opening doors to opportunities and building strong communities for the rest of us.”
Carolyn Fiddler, a national Democratic analyst who tracks legislative races across the country, pointed out that the pattern of Democratic wins in the states, which took shape after the Republican president’s election, continues. “Democrats are still winning Republican seats! Even when Republicans run in ‘safe’ and extremely gerrymandered districts and spend boatloads more money than the Democrat!” Fiddler explained Tuesday evening. “Tonight’s win is Democrats’ 34th state legislative pickup of the cycle.”
Given that Wisconsin Republicans have used extreme gerrymandering to secure their positions, Schachtner’s win was a particularly inspiring indication of the extent to which that disenchantment is shifting political sentiments. Noting that “[Schachtner’s] message of building up our communities and bridging our differences clearly had an impact as we saw some of the best numbers Democrats have seen in this district in decades,” State Senator Jen Shilling, the Democratic leader in the chamber, said Tuesday, “The results from today show that Wisconsin is ready for a change in Madison.”