Stealing Trump's thunder in Wisconsin?
Another special election, another Republican loss. This time, Wisconsin held a special election for a state Senate seat in a solidly red western district – and its solidly Republican candidate lost to a Democrat. So what is going on?
To be sure, the media were positively gleeful at Republicans' alarm when GOP assemblyman Adam Jarchow unexpectedly lost to chief medical examiner and Democrat, Patty Schachtner, in Wisconsin's 10th Senate District by around 44% to 55%.
Unexpected defeat in rural Wisconsin special election sets off alarm bells for Republicans, wrote the Washington Post.
Democrats grab key Wisconsin Senate seat in Tuesday's special elections, wrote the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
Democratic wave still growing, wrote Fox News.
There was reason to think the GOP alarm was real, given that Wisconsin's Republican governor, Scott Walker, called the special election a wake-up call. It comes in the aftermath of the lost special election in Alabama for the U.S. Senate and several other GOP special election losses. Worse still, in Wisconsin, the GOP outspent the Democrats by about five to one in the race and still lost. There is a sense that the Democrats are consolidating to take back power by November, even with their record of failure during the Obama years still fresh in many voters' minds.
WAKE UP CALL: Can’t presume that voters know we are getting positive things done in Wisconsin. Help us share the good news.— Scott Walker (@ScottWalker) January 17, 2018
Why did it happen? Actually, the newspaper accounts do offer a few clues.
This one, on Schachtner, leaped out at me, from the Post:
Her campaign focused not on attacking Trump but fighting the opioid crisis, improving access to health care[,] and bringing good-paying jobs to the region. She didn't need to talk about the president to benefit from an outpouring of progressive energy and conservative apathy.
And this, from the Journal-Sentinel:
Jarchow, an attorney, has pushed bills to strengthen the rights of property owners over government regulations and has sometimes voted against his party, opposing Walker's budget last year and the multibillion-dollar deal to bring a Foxconn Technology Group factory to Racine County.
And this, from the Washington Examiner:
Mike Gousha, who hosts one of Wisconsin's most prominent political talk shows, added an interesting observation. "Schachtner also ran on resentment toward Madison and MKE, " he tweeted. "From her campaign announcement: 'Whether it's roads, schools or jobs, Madison politicians take money away from us and give it to Milwaukee.'"
So the Republican was talking about property rights and deregulation in the campaign, while the Democrat was talking about helping those suffering in the opiate crisis, alleviating the nightmare of Obamacare, and getting good-paying jobs to the district?
Instead of asking whom you think voters would choose with that contrasting pair of platforms, the more useful question is, which platform would President Trump have taken had he been the candidate in that election?
Campaigning on dry deregulatory issues is certainly righteousness from a conservative point of view and should be done while in office. But it's no match for a populist platform aimed explicitly at helping people in distress. Of course the Democrat did better – she cribbed her campaign notes straight from Donald Trump, who won the state on just those themes. And it's telling that Schachtner didn't run her campaign centered around attacking Trump.
There are a couple of other things that stand out. Scott Walker has been in power for a while and obviously is the object of voter frustration based on being the incumbent. It would explain his tweet that voters don't know how good they have it -- against the message voters are counter-sending, which is to do better.
Also, the Journal-Sentinel notes that Jarchow didn't stand behind Walker on the state budget in an earlier legislative test, and he opposed a bid to bring a big company (read: jobs) to his district. Both of those things are just stupidity, given the voter mood. Voters want Republicans who will stand with their leader and not squelch every broad-based legislative initiative or reform based on some boutique issue, as we saw in Congress during the multiple Obamacare repeal efforts. They don't want freelancers who go off on their own. Voters also want politicians who will bring in the jobs, not the welfare checks. It sounds as though Jarchow had some deficiencies as a candidate.
It probably also helped that Schachtner was a woman. Some voters have concluded, for whatever reason, that with the Weinstein scandal, it's important to elect more women. The GOP might have done better, then, with a female candidate running on a populist platform.
It's not a disaster for the Republicans legislatively, but it could be a bellwether of future electoral losses. The message sent is that Republicans have to campaign more as Trump did and then stick to him once they win office.