By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Democrats on Tuesday flipped a state legislative district that, not even two years before, had voted overwhelmingly for President Donald Trump, leading them to boast once again of a coming “blue wave.”
Republicans quickly responded by mocking the predicted threat as amounting to nothing more than a “blue trickle.”
The Democrat Caleb Frostman beat state Rep. Andre Jacque, a Republican, in the 1st Senate District. The victory gives the Democrats a reach chance at to flip party control of the state Senate in November.
The GOP went into Tuesday’s special election in the 1st Senate District with an 18-14 Senate majority. With Frostman’s victory, the Democrats now need to capture only two seats in November to take control of the chamber.
Yet, despite Frostman’s victory in a usually conservative district, there was at least one sign that Democrats should not be taking legislative victories for granted. In a separate special election the same day, the Democrat Ann Groves Lloyd lost to the Republican Jon Plumer in the 42nd Assembly District.
In the 1st Senate District race, the state’s prevailing-wage laws had played a small part in Jacque’s campaign to win his party’s nomination for the seat. Various top GOP officials – including Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke and state Rep. John Nygren, co-chairman of the state’s powerful Joint Finance Committee – had chosen not to support Jacque in a primary contest held in May, instead picking his Republican rival, Alex Renard.
Many then believed those Republicans were retaliating against Jacque for his decision to buck GOP leaders in 2015 by holding a committee hearing on a bill calling for the repeal of Wisconsin’s prevailing-wage laws. Instead of repeal, top officials in the party had come out in favor of legislation that would have merely curtailed the state’s prevailing wages.
Once the primary was over, Jacque found prevailing wages to be much less a topic of discussion, he has said. His race against Frostman was more about broader policy differences, he has said.
With Frostman’s win, 43 legislative seats have been flipped since Trump took office. Republicans have held Wisconsin’s 1st Senate District for more than 40 years. Voters there ushered in Trump by a 17-point margin less than two years ago.
Going into Tuesday, Democrats had high hopes that their chances of winning the 1st Senate District would be buoyed by their victory in January in another GOP stronghold: the 10th state Senate District in northwestern Wisconsin. Liberal-aligned groups had also drawn encouragement from Rebecca Dallet’s successful bid to defeat a conservative for a seat on the Supreme Court.
“The momentum is palpable in Wisconsin, where we’ve already seen massive swings in our direction in SD-10 and the state Supreme Court race,” the Democratic National Committee said in a statement.
As it is, Tuesday’s elections leave Republicans with a 64-35 advantage in the Assembly and an 18-15 edge in the Senate. The Legislature isn’t expected to convene again until January, meaning Frostman and Plumer probably won’t have a chance to vote on anything before they have to run for re-election in November.
The two seats had been vacant since December, when Gov. Scott Walker appointed the Republican incumbents, Frank Lasee and Keith Ripp, to his administration. Walker refused to call elections — as required by state law — until he lost a court battle that forced his hand.
Both parties have plenty to talk about going into November. Each claims their respective wins show they are in great shape.
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos sent out a tweet about Plumer’s win, saying the Democrats’ supposed blue wave had weakened to a “blue trickle” that hit a “red wall” in his chamber.
Jacque himself predicted he will prevail in November, when turnout will be higher.
“It’s a June special election,” Jacque said. “It’s obviously going to be a lot different ball game in November.”
Frostman, the former executive director of the Door County Economic Development Corporation, said he looks forward to a rematch.
“Our work doesn’t stop here,” Frostman said. “The fall elections will change the future of our state and I hope my support network will grow as we work to get re-elected.”
Plumer didn’t return a voicemail Tuesday evening.
Lloyd said she didn’t have much time to campaign because Walker waited until March to schedule the elections. Now, though, she has built a network, she said.
“I’m excited to get a chance to spend the next five months getting to know the district and the people in the district even better,” she said.
– Dan Shaw of The Daily Reporter contributed to this article