Changing of the guard during Wisconsin mid-term elections

November 8, 2018

An eight-year reign of Republican dominance and political muscle in Wisconsin came to an end Tuesday, November 6, 2018, when Democrat Tony Evers defeated Republican Gov. Scott Walker, the central figure in Wisconsin politics for more than a decade. And his running mate, former state Rep. Mandela Barnes, will become the state’s first African American lieutenant governor when the two are sworn in in January.

On a night when Democrats retook the U.S. House and both parties piled up striking wins and equally striking losses, voters in Wisconsin turned the page on one of the nation’s best known and most polarizing governors.

They did so by a very small margin, when a late tally of absentee ballots from Milwaukee County put the race out of reach for Walker. In the other marquee race in Wisconsin, Democratic U.S. Senate incumbent Tammy Baldwin won her own re-election bid handily against Republican Leah Vukmir.

Attorney General-elect
Josh Kaul

Turnout in Wisconsin was remarkable across the state. More than 2.6 million people voted, far more than in any past midterm, more than in the 2012 recall election, and equal to roughly 59 percent of the state’s voting-age population. That is more than the turnout rate that many states achieved in the 2016 presidential race.

Across the nation, voters delivered their midterm verdicts Tuesday on a president they elected two years ago, Donald Trump, and his party’s control of Congress. It was a good night for Democrats nationally, but it fell short of their highest hopes and was punctuated by some major disappointments.

It was not a tsunami. Democrats captured the U.S. House. They lost ground in the Senate in a year when many contests were fought on very Republican turf.

The results around the country appeared to reflect growing geographic and demographic divides, between metropolitan and rural, and voters with and without college degrees.

Walker’s contest was one of the most closely watched nationally, featuring a onetime national star of the party, whose bid for the presidency shot out of the gate in 2015 before it was eclipsed by Trump.

Baldwin’s Senate victory followed a very powerful historical pattern. Incumbent senators in the opposition party — the party that doesn’t occupy the White House — don’t often lose. It hasn’t happened in Wisconsin in 56 years. These senators enjoy the upside of incumbency — money, name recognition, political experience and skills — without the downside, which is the baggage of being in power.

Sarah Godlewski

Baldwin easily outspent Vukmir, but she was also the target of lots of early attack ads. She won Tuesday by a bigger margin — around 10 points — than other recent U.S. Senate victors in this evenly divided state. She ran hard on the Democrats’ biggest weapon in 2018 — the issue of health care. She also effectively mixed in populist themes (like “Buy American”) and parochial issues, like dairy.

In other races, Congresswoman Gwen Moore kept her seat in the House, though that race was actually determined in August when she beat out her Republican opponents.

As did Milwaukee County Sheriff candidate Earnell Lucas, who officially solidified himself as the replacement for controversial Sheriff David Clarke, Jr.

Democrat Josh Kaul unseated incumbent Brad Schimel for State Attorney General.

Doug La Follette beat out Republican Jay Schroeder for Secretary of State and Democrat Sarah Godlewski won State Treasurer contest.