7 Election Takeaways
What did we learn as the blue wave washed over Wisconsin?
What did this election tell us about Wisconsin — and Milwaukee?
1. The “Blue Wave” is Real, But It’s Really About Turnout
Tuesday’s big win for Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Rebecca F. Dallet reflected a national trend of success by Democratic-aligned candidates. Starting with Roy Moore‘s loss in the Senate race in Alabama, Democrats have channeled their opposition to President Donald Trump into success at the polls.
To win in the first place, Trump had successfully flipped a number of consistently blue states into red states, including Wisconsin. But are voters really that indecisive? Maybe not.
The “blue wave” in Wisconsin is likely less about swing voters changing their minds, and more about who is actually going to to the polls. Are voters showing up in Madison and Milwaukee or Waukesha and Brookfield?
Yes, Dallet had impressive showings in Dane and Milwaukee counties, something that didn’t happen (twice) for former Supreme Court candidate JoAnne Kloppenburg. But the biggest takeaway was where voters didn’t show up.
In Waukesha County, the 2016 election between Kloppenburg and Rebecca Bradley (Wisconsin’s presidential primary) drew 162,757 votes. Yesterday’s race between Dallet and Michael Screnock drew just 88,943 votes. The more liberal candidate drew roughly the same number of votes each time, (Kloppenburg got 51,000 in 2016, Dallet 57,000 yesterday), showing that conservatives just couldn’t be bothered to vote yesterday.
In brief, the “blue wave” might be as much about conservative apathy as liberal excitement.
Dallet election night celebration:
2. The Democratic Gubernatorial Primary Just Got Really Interesting
The large field of candidates running for the Democratic nomination for governor has been compared to a clown car, but now things are going to get serious. Coupling the “blue wave” with the amount of apathy for the Foxconn deal should have any candidate with a pulse excited about their chances of defeating Governor Scott Walker. Yet, no front-runner has emerged.
With attention now turning to the August primary, candidates that can ramp up their fundraising efforts are going to be well-suited to capitalize on the liberal momentum. With Dallet’s strong showing outside of Dane and Milwaukee counties, the electoral calculus on how to win the race has changed.
The Dallet campaign has laid out a template of how to win; which candidate will seize on it?
3. Scott Walker Has Rare Moment of Weakness
As soon as it became clear Dallet was going to win, a number of reporters and political pundits on Twitter began speculating when we would see a statement from Governor Walker. It didn’t take long for him to deliver. Channeling his inner Donald Trump, Walker sent out a series of tweets less than an hour after the Associated Press called the race, with the governor accusing “big government special interests” of spending lavishly alongside a “far left” driven by “hate and anger” to spread misinformation. He then pivoted into a fundraising pitch, asking for $5 contributions.
Can he hold on it? If the State Treasurer constitutional referendum is any indicator, Walker is in trouble. The proposal to eliminate the office, which was previously supported by Democratic politicians including two-time Walker opponent Mayor Tom Barrett, quietly became a referendum on Walker. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the proposal, with 61 percent against it, to eliminate the office, which had twice been approved by the legislature.
Walker has seven months to stem the tide or the blue wave might just knock him out of Madison. We’ll get a reading on how well that is going in the coming months as Walker lost a court case attempting to prevent two special elections for the legislature. If either of those two, Republican-leaning districts is won by a Democrat, expect more alarmed tweets from Walker.
4. Chris Abele Flexes Muscle, But At What Cost?
Abele successfully ousted foes Peggy West and Steve Taylor in favor of Sylvia Ortiz-Velez and Patti Logsdon. Will they support Abele’s increasingly bold vision to reshape Milwaukee County government? And if so, for how long?
When I first met Taylor shortly after he was elected, he spoke of wanting to support a new vision for the county, one that seemed in line with Abele’s. Then within a couple of years he began opposing anything with Abele’s scent on it. That clearly made him a target for Abele, but Supervisor Deanna Alexander also won’t be sad to see Taylor go. She accused Taylor of bullying and being a Republican in Name Only in recent weeks.
Leadership MKE had its deep pockets in other races as well. Steven Shea beat out Abele-backed candidate James Davies in the county’s southeast corner. But the group also supported Felesia Martin, who had a decisive win over Kenneth Ginlack, Sr. for the open seat held for decades by Michael Mayo.
The multimillionaire’s ability to build political support will be tested in early fall as the county begins work on the 2019 budget. There is no arguing that the county is in difficult financial straits, but the board has rejected Abele’s plans to raise the necessary revenue to support county services in recent years. A one-time surplus was used this year to avoid massive cuts to the transit system. It won’t be there in 2019 and tough choices will have to be made.
And while Abele picked up a number of wins, he missed out on the race he likely most wanted to win…
5. A Big Win for Theo Lipscomb
Money isn’t everything in politics. County board chair Theodore Lipscomb, Sr. was significantly outspent by Abele’s Leadership MKE organization in his reelection campaign, but the incumbent held on to best Casey Shorts. He secured just over 52 percent of the vote, enough to win another two-year term and likely another two years as the board chair.
While Lipscomb lost at least one key ally in West, he had another by his side on election night. Pictured with Lipscomb at his victory party was state Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee), who gave Abele a run for his money for county executive in 2016.
6. Quietly, a Big Night for Tammy Baldwin
All reports indicate Rebecca Dallet’s party at Good City Brewing was well attended and quite the joyous affair, but someone else might have been celebrating even more. US Senator Tammy Baldwin, who faces a tough reelection challenge in November, had to be ecstatic to see the statewide numbers. Further boosting Baldwin’s chances of reelection, Dane County voters, the very people who repeatedly sent Baldwin to the House of Representatives, backed Dallet by a landslide. The Supreme Court candidate earned 80.9 percent of the vote, with a surprisingly high 31.8 percent turnout rate.
7. Girl Power
Last, not but least, special mention of the rising power of women in Wisconsin must be given. The seven-member Wisconsin Supreme Court will now consist of six women, Dallet, Bradley, Patience Roggensack, Ann Walsh Bradley, Annette Ziegler and Shirley Abrahamson. That’s a state and national record in terms of percentage.
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