The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Democrats flip state Senate seat in Wisconsin

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) speaks to reporters in Madison, Wis., on Monday. In a Tuesday election, Republicans in the state lost a legislative seat they had held for years. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer)

The 2018 election season kicked off Tuesday with an upset in rural Wisconsin, where Democrats flipped a state Senate seat that had been held by Republicans since the start of the century.

With every precinct counted in the race for Wisconsin’s 10th Senate District, Democrat Patty Schachtner was the clear victor over Republican Adam Jarchow, a member of the state Assembly. Schachtner, a medical examiner in St. Croix County, won by 9 points — a massive swing in a district that former senator Sheila Harsdorf, a Republican, won in 2016 with 63.2 percent of the vote.

“A change is coming!!!” wrote Wisconsin Democratic Party chair Martha Laning after Schachtner’s victory became clear Tuesday night.

The result in the 10th, which Harsdorf won in 2000 and held easily for years, gave Wisconsin Democrats their first pickup on Republican turf since 2011. In 2010, the party lost control of the governor’s office and both houses of the legislature; the next year, Democrats rode a brief backlash to Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) and picked up two Senate seats in recall elections.

A Republican-friendly gerrymander wiped out those gains, and in 2014 and 2016, Republicans capitalized on Democrats’ rural fade and Donald Trump’s coattails to grow their majorities.

The Post's polling team analyzed Virginia's 2017 gubernatorial race to see if a "Trump effect" was at play. (Video: Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

But last year, after Harsdorf left for a job in Walker’s administration, both parties saw the 10th District as potentially competitive. Americans for Prosperity spent $50,000 to boost Jarchow, while the National Democratic Redistricting Committee and Greater Wisconsin Political Independent Expenditure Fund spent nearly as much on advertisements for Schachtner. U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), one of 10 Democrats up for reelection this year in states won by Trump, recorded a get-out-the-vote video for Schachtner.

The Democrat’s upset win was the 34th pickup for the party of the 2018 cycle. Republicans have flipped four seats from blue to red — two in the Republican-trending Deep South, one in New Jersey and one in Massachusetts.

But on average, even in races that went against them, Democrats have improved on their margins from the 2016 rout. In other Tuesday elections, Democrat Dennis Degenhardt won 43 percent of the vote in Wisconsin’s 58th Assembly District; in 2016, Hillary Clinton won just 28 percent of the vote there, and no Democrat contested the seat. In Iowa’s 6th House District, Democrat Rita DeJong won 44 percent of the vote; in 2016, the party’s nominee won just 35 percent. In South Carolina’s 99th House District, Democrat Cindy Boatwright lost with 43 percent of the vote; the party had not run a candidate for the seat in this decade.