“We are at risk of a blue wave in Wisconsin.” That's none other than the governor of Wisconsin, a Republican, warning his party Tuesday night that things could go badly for them in just a few months — including his own reelection.
The evidence Gov. Scott Walker has to back up that prediction is pretty solid: On Tuesday, Democrats won a statewide election for a state Supreme Court seat by more than 11 points. That comes after Wisconsin Democrats won a special election for a state Senate seat in January in historically Republican territory.
Walker was already ringing the alarm bells after that first loss in January. He figured it would serve as a lesson for Republicans not to get complacent after so many years of Republicans dominating this state.
Now that he has lost another race, this one statewide with a candidate he was all in for, Walker is outright hitting the panic button for his party. Here are tweets he fired off Tuesday night:
Some of this is clearly a messaging strategy. Walker is attempting to leverage these losses to spring his party into action: Donate, knock on doors and, most important, be as motivated as Democrats clearly are to show up and vote.
But Walker's actions elsewhere revealed how suddenly he is truly concerned about Democrats: After January's loss, he tried to pause two other special elections, which would leave the seats vacant for a year. The GOP-controlled state legislature even tried to pass a bill banning special elections in the state after April in an election year. The courts overruled Walker's attempts to halt them, and Walker is under a court order to hold those elections in June.
Democrats, conversely, are pretty amped up after Tuesday's win. Rebecca Dallet’s victory was the first open Supreme Court race that a progressive has won since 1995. Democrats erased a similar decades-long drought by winning January's state Senate seat.
“If Walker thought a small little Senate district up in the northwestern part of the state going Democratic for first time [in decades] was a wake-up call,” said Wisconsin Democratic operative Scot Ross, “this would be a Category 8 hurricane.”
These Supreme Court elections are technically nonpartisan, which makes this statewide race an imperfect comparison to November’s governor and Senate races. (Walker is trying to win a third term in November, and Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat, is one of our top most vulnerable incumbents in Senate races.)
But both sides made very clear who was their favorite potential justice. Walker backed his candidate, Michael Screnock, with GOP party money, by some estimates making up 40 percent of total fundraising for him. The National Rifle Association sent mailers for Screnock. A manufacturing association spent nearly $1 million on ads for him.
Meanwhile, Joe Biden made a robo-call for Dallet. The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, headed by Eric H. Holder Jr., President Barack Obama's former attorney general, also spent money in this race.
And Dallet's win wasn't just a warning to Republicans. Her win shifts the court from a 5-2 conservative majority to 4-3, and it gives Democrats the possibility of overtaking the majority in time for the court to chime in on any GOP-drawn electoral maps after the 2020 Census. The U.S. Supreme Court is deciding on whether Wisconsin's state legislative districts are unconstitutionally partisan in favor of Republicans.
For all of Walker’s alarm-bell-ringing, Republicans close to him say he’s not reading too much into losing this seat. There is plenty of data that shows Democrats winning judicial races in the spring and Republicans going on to have a good November.
Plus, the Wisconsin Republican Party is one of the most organized and effective state parties in the nation. It can arguably claim to have won Donald Trump the presidency in November.
But across the nation, Republicans are on the receiving end of warning signs that their party could be in for a terrible election year. And right now, Wisconsin is no different.