Democrats have just pulled off the first election upset of 2018. In northwestern Wisconsin’s Senate District 10, Democrat (and reality TV show Wife Swap alum) Patty Schachtner defeated Republican Adam Jarchow 55-45 percent to flip a seat the GOP has held since 2000. Tuesday’s shocking upset arguably puts the Wisconsin Senate majority in play this fall (which is now 18 Republicans to 14 Democrats, with one vacancy).
This supposedly safe Republican seat became open when GOP Sen. Sheila Harsdorf accepted an appointment to Scott Walker's cabinet late last year. Despite the fact that SD-10 went 55-38 for Trump in 2016 and 52-46 for Romney in 2012, Democrats were cautiously optimistic about their chances here. Wisconsin Democrats cited internal polling (from last year) showing the race was competitive, and progressive investments in this contest indicated that this hopefulness extended beyond the Democratic caucus. Greater Wisconsin spent $30,000 in support of Schachtner, and the National Democratic Redistricting Committee spent $10,000 on online advertising.
Conservative spending, on the other hand, reflected GOP nervousness about keeping this red seat. Americans for Prosperity Wisconsin spent at least $50,000 on radio and digital ads, and the Republican State Leadership Committee and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce spent a combined $78,000 on issue ads. Additionally, Jarchow is currently a member of the state Assembly, which allowed him to lend his existing war chest ($271,000 raised in 2017) to his special election effort. (Schachter, for her part, raised a laudable $183,000 in the short amount of time available to her to fundraise for the seat, and she clearly put that cash to good use.)
Public polling from last year indicated that generic Democrats are favored in Wisconsin legislative elections (44-41 percent), and the 33 Democratic red-to-blue flips in special and general elections in 2017 indicated that Democrats could be in for a pleasant surprise in Tuesday’s contest.
But the greater takeaway from the Wisconsin SD-10 special election is an alarm klaxon for Republicans at every level of the ballot, even those running in gerrymandered districts and drastically outspending their Democratic challengers: The reckoning has arrived, and no one is safe.