A Democratic victory in one of Wisconsin’s Republican-leaning districts is “a wake up call for Republicans” in the state, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has said, as the party prepares for a vicious fight to maintain control of US Congress this year.
In a special election on Tuesday, Democrat Patty Schachtner won the state’s 10th Senate District, which had voted heavily for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
While the special election was held to fill an empty seat in Wisconsin’s state legislature, Ms Schachtner’s triumph could prove to be another warning sign for Republicans to not take the challenge from Democrats lightly during the midterm elections in November.
“Senate District 10 special election win by a Democrat is a wake up call for Republicans in Wisconsin,” Mr Walker tweeted.
The Republican governor later added, “WAKE UP CALL: Can’t presume that voters know we are getting positive things done in Wisconsin. Help us share the good news.”
Mr Walker is right, “but I don’t think it is going to wake them up”, said David Barker, the director of American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies.
“This may be just one contest for the state legislature in Wisconsin,” he told The Independent, “but it is part of a larger pattern we have observed over the last year”.
Mr Barker noted that Democratic voters have been “disproportionately and unusually motivated” to turn out in elections in traditionally Republican states or districts.
In November, Democrats also made much larger than expected gains in Virginia’s state legislature. Additionally, the Democratic candidate for governor won a rather stunning margin over his Republican opponent – another possible indicator of a tough year ahead for Republicans.
“In a lot of special elections, Democrats are doing better than they did in 2016 – even when they lose,” said Michele Swers, an American government professor at Georgetown University.
This pattern, Mr Barker said, along with the unprecedented numbers of Republican retirements in the House of Representatives, numbers of qualified Democratic challengers who are running, and Democratic fundraising numbers, “is starting to make a wave election for Democrats in 2018 look less likely than a tsunami [of wins]”.
To win a majority in the 100-member Senate, Democrats now need a net gain of two seats. Meanwhile, the party needs a net gain of 24 to retake control of the 435-member House.
“The average number of House seats that an incumbent president’s party loses in the following midterm [elections] is around 30,” Mr Barker said. “The Democrats only need around 24 to reclaim control. Right now, the forecast has to be in the 40s or even higher.”
While the Democratic victory in Wisconsin may be evidence of a broader trend, Mark Peterson, a political science professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said he would “be cautious about reading too much into a single special election win in a state legislative district – even with such an apparent swing from President Trump’s large margin to the healthy margin received by the Democrat.”
Special election electorates have their own unique characteristics, Mr Peterson said. “What Governor Walker is trying to do is stimulate some real fear – i.e. motivation – among his Republican compatriots, both within the state and nationally,” he added.