Although the elections are officially nonpartisan, that’s really in name only. Liberal candidate Rebecca Dallet won by 12 percentage points over conservative Michael Screnock, who was backed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker. It was the first time Democrats won an open seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court since 1995.
This Wisconsin result is merely the latest sign that it’s not 2016 anymore and Democrats have momentum heading into the congressional midterms this fall.
One of the most interesting trends in the previous special elections in 2017 and 2018 is how the results correlated with the 2016 and 2012 presidential results. What we might expect is that the more recent election (2016) would be more predictive of the race to race correlation than the one before it (2012). That is, the areas that President Donald Trump did worse in relative to Mitt Romney would continue to trend that way, while Democrats would continue to lose ground in the areas where Trump did better than Romney.
We haven’t seen that, however, in these elections. The 2012 electoral map has actually given us a better understanding of how each race will go than the 2016 map. Democrats have actually picked up the most ground in areas where Trump did better than Romney.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court race was not a special election, but it is another example that Democrats would be wise not to give up on areas that swung heavily to Trump. It’s not just that liberal candidate Dallet won a state that Hillary Clinton lost and Barack Obama won twice. Dallet won in a number of areas in the state where Trump was able to rack up huge numbers relative to Romney. Counties like Kenosha, which is home to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s congressional district and where Trump won and Romney lost by double digits. In Tuesday’s election, Dallet won it by 14 percentage points.
Put another way, Democrats might be enticed to put a lot of midterm eggs in baskets where Clinton did better than Obama (i.e. well-educated areas). The results in the elections so far in Wisconsin and other places suggest that may be a mistake.
The outcome in Wisconsin is interesting for another reason: what it could mean for Walker. While Obama was winning the state twice, Walker won the state three times when Obama was president. Indeed, it seemed like Wisconsin had more races built up as bellwethers than almost anywhere in the country during that time.
One of these key Wisconsin races during the Obama presidency was the high profile state supreme court election in 2011. The race was seen as a referendum on Walker who was passing a conservative agenda with the help of the state legislature. The conservative candidate in that supreme court election squeaked by to victory — and Walker would go on to win two more elections in the following three years.
Walker is on the ballot once again this November seeking a third four-year term. With an approval rating of 47% in the latest Marquette University Law School poll, he could be vulnerable. That could be why Walker seemed to be hitting the panic button on Tuesday night when he tweeted about a potential Democratic wave hitting the state later this year.