Subscribe for 33¢ / day

After victories in Republican strongholds in recent months, beleaguered Democrats had one more reason to use the term "blue wave" after Patty Schachtner scored an upset win for a northwestern Wisconsin Senate seat Tuesday.

"From Alabama to Virginia to Georgia to statehouse races across the country, Democrats are significantly outperforming the 2016 vote and often flipping seats – or at least putting a scare into Republicans,” reads an editorial in the Charlotte Observer Wednesday. “It’s helped contribute to a record breaking number of Republicans not seeking reelection in Congress this year, and it’s why other Republicans in purplish states – like Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina – are attempting the difficult trick of reaching toward the center with one hand while patting President Trump’s back with the other.”

Just how much has the political climate changed since 2106? CNN's Chris Cillizza puts a number to it.

"Schachtner's win marked the first Republican-to-Democrat switch at the state legislative level of 2018 but it is the 34th state legislative seat pickup for Democrats since the start of 2017," he writes. "That trend is beginning to rightly alarm smart Republicans."

Schachtner’s 9-point win is all the more worrisome to the GOP because she won the state’s 10th Senate District against a well-known Republican, state Rep. Adam Jarchow, for a seat held since 2001 by Republican Sheila Harsdorf, who left to become the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection secretary. It came in a rural district, made up of parts of Dunn, Pierce, St. Croix, Polk and Burnett counties, that handed Trump a 17-point win over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

And she won in a race in which right-leaning groups spent at least $130,000, more than three times the amount spent by left-leaning groups on her behalf. 

The significance was not lost on Gov. Scott Walker, who tweeted that the win is a "wake up call for Republicans in Wisconsin.”

Republicans, who run all three branches of state government, still hold an 18-14 majority in the Senate, with one vacancy. And in a special election race garnering little attention Wednesday, Republican Rick Gundrum beat Democrat Dennis Degenhardt by 14 points in the heavily Republican 58th Assembly District northwest of Milwaukee.

But Schachtner's positive campaign could be seen as a repudiation of the harsh, divisive and arguably racist politics that propelled Donald Trump to the White House.

In a story headlined, “This is what the Democratic special election wave looks like,” Phillip Bump of the Washington Post writes that Schachtner’s win is evidence of the “deep unpopularity of President Trump.”

He adds that the concern voiced by Walker, who is up for re-election in November, is well-placed.

“Swings of 20-plus points to the Democrats is not the sort of thing that an incumbent Republican likes to see.”

Politico also notes the Trump effect.

“The victory by Schachtner in a Republican-leaning state Senate district could prove another warning sign for the GOP of a potential Democratic wave, sparked by animosity toward President Donald Trump, that many have predicted in this year’s 2018 midterm elections,” writes Louis Nelson.

And the conservative Washington Examiner didn’t try to put a positive spin on the election result.

“That surprising change is being analyzed as a Trump-era harbinger of electoral devastation for the GOP come November,” writes columnist Julia Jashinsky.

As Madison as it gets: Get Cap Times' highlights sent daily to your inbox

With perhaps a touch of melodrama, a story in Newsweek calls Schachtner’s win a “portent of doom for the Republican Party.”

The New York Times rolled the Democratic win in with other issues that will undoubtedly affect the November elections.

“The election comes at a tense political moment for the state, with a governor’s race and United States Senate seat at stake in the fall; questions about gerrymandering of state political maps in the courts; and with political observers around the nation watching all sorts of local and state races for signs of what 2018 races may bring for both parties,” writes reporter Julie Bosman.

You can add the growing tab that taxpayers will be shelling out for years to come for the giant Foxconn plant in Mount Pleasant, a deal shoved through by Republicans that has tepid public support. But the race wasn't a referendum on the deal. 

But, as Jason Stein writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Jarchow actually voted with Democrats to oppose the Foxconn deal, making it difficult to draw firm conclusions from the race."

Jarchow, in a break from fellow Republicans, opposed the deal. 

Schachtner’s win, and its continuation of what could be a vast change in Democratic fortunes, also garnered notice overseas.

“The fresh election blow to conservatives comes just a month after Democrat Doug Jones scored a stunning victory over Republican firebrand Roy Moore to win the vacant Senate seat in deep red Alabama,” notes the Independent, a news site in the UK.

Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.

Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.