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News & Press: Legislative Updates

Election Update 2018

Wednesday, November 7, 2018  
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Eric Jensen, Jensen Government Relations LLC

Searching for a word to summarize last night’s Wisconsin state elections this morning (including early this morning as I obsessively watched the final results trickling in!), all I could come up with was:  Wow.

Neck and neck all night, at about 1:00 am came an announcement that nearly 50,000 absentee ballots from Milwaukee County were still being counted and would be reported shortly.  With the Governor and Attorney General races very close at that point, the announcement of those ballots yet to come from the traditional Democratic stronghold signaled that both races were likely over, and indeed they were.  Those ballots gave Tony Evers a nearly 30,000-vote lead over Governor Walker, and gave Josh Kaul a nearly 15,000-vote lead over Attorney General Schimel.  Despite possible recounts, barring any unanticipated irregularities most insiders agree those totals will be sufficient to sustain victories for both Evers and Kaul.  (Of note, Democrats also won all three other statewide races – US Senate, Secretary of State and State Treasurer.)

While the statewide races were swept by Democrats, with results that were quite close to the closely watched Marquette Law School poll results leading into Election Day, the real “wow” factor came through in the races for State Senate and State Assembly. 

Democrats entered Election Day optimistic that high turnout for the statewide races would help their causes in both the State Assembly and Senate.  In the end, it did not.  In fact, Assembly Republicans did not lose a single seat – including several seats they hold in what have long been viewed as traditionally strong Democratic areas – and will maintain a 64-35 majority.  Meanwhile, Senate Republicans, viewed by many as quite vulnerable after losing two GOP-held seats during Spring Special Elections, actually expanded their majority by holding all of their seats and winning back the 1st Senate District up in Door/Kewaunee Counties they had lost during the June Special Election.

Drawing conclusions from all of this will be an interesting political and social science discussion for some time to come, but what the numbers showed is fairly simple:  the very high concentration of Democratic voters in Dane and Milwaukee Counties voting in large numbers is sufficient to win statewide races (borne out during this Spring’s Supreme Court race as well).  Meanwhile, there remain more areas of the state where Republican voters appear to outnumber Democratic voters by smaller percentages (compared to the Democratic advantages in Dane and Milwaukee Cos.) allowing Republicans to out-perform their statewide candidates by just enough to win the smaller Assembly and Senate districts and control the Legislature.

The Governor, Attorney General, State Senators and State Representatives will be sworn in the first week of January, and action will commence soon after.  What the dynamic will be between the new Governor and the existing Legislative majorities will be interesting to see.  Also interesting, will be watching the dynamic between the two Republican majorities that did not see eye-to-eye on several major policy areas last session.