Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Can Democrats Win State Senate?

Schachtner win gives hope. But everything would have to go right.

By - Jan 22nd, 2018 09:38 am
Patty Schachtner. Photo from Patty for Senate.

Patty Schachtner. Photo from Patty for Senate.

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 retain Senate control they have had since 2011.

When Schachtner takes her Senate seat, 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. But Jarchow got just 46 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,” Schnachter 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, compared to just 28 percent for Hillary Clinton in this district in the 2016 presidential race.

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 an army of 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 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 for not – the last word: “Change is coming.”

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WiscosinEye. Contact him at

23 thoughts on “The State of Politics: Can Democrats Win State Senate?”

  1. Terry says:

    Yes they can! All aboard the Dump Republican mobile! Next stop, freedom!

    DUMP WALKER 2018!


  2. Troll says:

    I think it is logical to presume that Democrats have momentum. We look at history over the last fifty years. When a Republican is president a Democratic Governor follows. Similarly a Democrat President leads to a Wisconsin Republican governor. Tommy Thompson is the only exception. History also shows that Democrats pick up seats in the Congressional elections following a Republican president. Republicans need to message there wins. Since Obama left. 2.5 million left food stamps. Disabled people are finding jobs. As a result, the number of workers collecting federal disability benefits dropped 1.3% last year, which is the biggest annual decline since 1983.According to Investors Business daily. African American unemployment is at its lowest in 40 + years. Apple is investing $200 billion dollars in America and paying $38 billion taxes. Working class families will receive $2000 child tax credits so they can make ends meet.

  3. Terry says:

    @Troll, meanwhile republicans got drunk on power, cozied up to White Nationalists and Nazis, drove the state into the ditch and then when they finally “sobered up” sold off the state to the highest bidder! Your choice people. I say no to crypto-fascists myself.

  4. Troll says:

    Terry,it is something call the first Amendment. We let Muslim clerks in America. Scream death to America. We let an Obama supporter Jason Kessler have his hate march in Charlottesville. We had a women’s march in Milwaukee on Saturday but half of the voices were silence. If your an African American women who believes in the second Amendment (NRA’s fastest growing group) Go away. If you bring an Israeli flag to the march it apparently is a symbol of hate, if your hispanic women that is Pro life your not welcome.

  5. Terry says:

    @Troll, Absolutely and you will be called out for your hate, misogyny, bigotry, White Nationalist/Neo-Nazi, crypto fascist supporting nonsense all the way! It’s called freedom. Look into it!

  6. Troll says:

    Terry, at one of my jobs(grocery). I worked with an African American women that grew up not trusting Republicans. She was sending her three children to a christian school in Milwaukee and complaining about the costs of tuition. She was not aware of the $7000 voucher(per child) for private schools past by the Republicans. Her pastor and friends told her nothing. Knowledge is power. She also voted for Hillary Clinton(2016). I also let her know thanks to Trump and the Republicans that there is a very good chance that she will receive another $3000-$4000 a year because Republicans understand that if you work (husband and wife)hard you should be rewarded. She was told her taxes would go up. She may never vote Republican but she may stay home in 2018 and 2020. Terry, getting Rhianna and Chris Brown (Democratic playbook) to play a concert at the Bradley Center for free may not cut it anymore two weeks before an election.

  7. Terry says:

    @Troll, republican’s appeasing and enabling Nazis, racists and fascists is not cool. Not cool at all. Tell your phony anecdotes to someone gullible enough to fall for them. That’s not me.


  8. Troll says:

    Terry, I am sure you will get your way. We could be Venezuela. A lot of your 2020 nominees have a Hugo Chavez/ Maduro feel. How does it go? Let out all the prisoners and arm them and kill your opponents. No opposing viewpoints, right. Maybe you can be the Venezuelan spokesman that tells us rabbits are not our pets but dinner. One of the richest counties in the world, Venezuela, like you wants to destroy capitalism. Obama wanted that. In eight years he could never get GDP to grow more than 2% in any economic quarter. Trump comes in and lifts the damp wet blanket off the economy. We are over 3% baby- 4% here we come.

  9. Terry says:

    @Troll, I reiterate. It’ called “freedom” Troll. Look into it. As I said before, say whatever you wish. I will do the same and I will start where I left off…Naeo- Nazi, White Nationslist, crypto-fascist, misogynistic, racist Republican Trump enablers and appeasers can take a hike!

  10. Terry says:

    @Troll, can’t wait for the next economic collapse.Oh joy! As if the USA won’t be destroyed by QE but by “socialism,” wow you are naive…

  11. Terry says:

    Republican modus operandi in a nutshell. Afflict the afflicted and comfort the comfortable, the opposite of what Jesus taught!

  12. Terry says:

    No more Big Government Nanny State control freak republicans like Vukmir, Vos, career politician Scott Walker, Fitzgerald, Nygren!!

    Get out of our lives republicans! Get out of our wallets! Get out of our bedrooms! Get your “small government off women’s bodies! Get out of our healthcare choices! Get your greasy big out of state mega rich donor money out of our politics! Get your slimy corrupt policies and partisan gerrymandering out of the state and keep your greasy mitts off our legal cannabis! Get out of our lives forever republicans!! If we needed a nanny, we would’ve hired one. We don’t, now get lost!

    DUMP VUKMIR 2018!!

  13. Timothy J Haering says:

    I guess I am the only one who sees no partrisan information here. Schachtner simply reminded wistful Harsdorf voters more of their Sheila than Jarchow. Nothing at all to do with party.

  14. GRNDPAKWH says:

    I wonder if the close proximity to Minnesota had anything to do with the Democratic win in the special election. Minnesota has followed a progressive agenda which is responsible for a far more healthy economy than what Republican controlled Wisconsin has. The other special election was held in the SE part of the state which is controlled by the Milwaukee media which is not friendly to progressive ideas.
    I wish the state democrats would stop talking about gerrymandering and start talking the progressive message. I am proud to be a liberal but find it hard to support the Democratic party in Wisconsin.

  15. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Why did she win? what were the issues? What about the camapign.

  16. PMD says:

    She didn’t talk about divisive social issues that Republicans use to get votes (and then they do nothing about them once elected). She won because women and college educated voters who went Trump are turning away from them in huge numbers. That’s why Walker and Thompson are so worried about what happened here.

  17. Troll says:

    It could be simply that Trump is not on the ticket. Trump dominated in poor, rural and high school diploma voters. Clinton won in very wealthy districts like Riverhills, Whitefish bay, Shorewood and the Lake shore. Either way, Republicans need to wake up. Minnesota theory is screwy. Trump lost Minnesota by 1.5 points.

  18. Troll says:

    John, I did what you asked and the website gives more say to me than you. Hey how about those Bucks? Three Democratic Billionaires have to agree as one to fire Jason Kidd. How silly… too many left wing male egos in charge poor, Giannis.

  19. John Casper says:


    Next time, can you write the first sentence in English?

    Your buddy Gov. Walker wanted to keep them.

    Edens and Lasry–Bucks owners–are elites, wanted HRC, a pro-choice Republican.

    Why don’t you ask your pal Jeff Sessions to investigate them?

  20. Bill Kurtz says:

    The 10th Senate District is dominated by St. Croix County, which has become strongly Republican due to Twin Cities suburbanites moving across the river from Michelle Bachman’s old congressional district.

  21. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    There are not enough nazis and White nationalists, whatever that it in Wisconsin to fill a teacup. nazis are letfies, socialists.

  22. Troll says:

    Tell that to Gypsy Taco. Poor guy bends to the speech police. Calling a small business guy supporting his daughter a racist for trying to make a living . He must be a Trump supporter. How dare he use the word GYPSY.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us