With a new political paradigm in Wisconsin, what’s next?
Wisconsin woke up to a new political paradigm Wednesday with Democrats, fueled by record turnout for a midterm election, declaring victory in statewide races including the race for governor.
But big wins statewide did not translate to legislative gains for Democrats, as Republicans added one seat to their state Senate majority and maintained their lopsided edge in the Assembly.
State Superintendent Tony Evers declared victory early Wednesday morning over two-term incumbent Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
Democrat Josh Kaul declared victory over Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel at a news conference Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. in front of the Dane County Courthouse.
That -- along with wins Tuesday by State Treasurer candidate Sarah Godlewski and the re-election of Secretary of State Doug La Follette -- hands control of all executive state offices to Democrats for the first time since 1986. It marks a stunning about-face for a state government that, since 2011, has been under near-total Republican control.
Schimel issued a statement just before 9 a.m. saying he spoke with Kaul and acknowledged “it appears he has won the race,” but is still awaiting the final results, which could take about a week.
“I told him I am waiting until the municipal and county canvasses are complete, all military ballots are accounted for and that every vote is counted. We also want to know more about what happened with the absentee ballots in Milwaukee County,” Schimel said. “However, if the margin does not substantially change, I have vowed that my team will assist him in making the transition as smooth as possible.”
Walker also didn’t concede after The Associated Press projected Evers the winner with almost all precincts reporting and Evers holding a slightly more than 1 percent victory margin, enough to block a recount. State law only permits losing candidates to seek a recount if they trail by no more than 1 percentage point.
In a statement issued very early Wednesday, Walker’s campaign said it would wait until an official canvass of the results and for military and overseas ballots to be counted, and noted some of the ballots may have been damaged.
Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch spoke at the campaign watch party shortly before 1 a.m. Wednesday and said the Walker campaign was preparing for a likely recount. But the campaign clarified late Wednesday morning that Kleefisch’s comments came before a batch of nearly 50,000 ballots were reported in city of Milwaukee, which effectively handed Evers a clear lead in the race.
Walker tweeted a Bible verse Wednesday morning: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Reid Magney, a spokesman for the state Elections Commission, said it wasn’t immediately clear how many military and overseas ballots might be outstanding Wednesday morning. He said in 2016 the state received less than 10,000 military and overseas ballots.
Evers’ win also elevated his running mate Mandela Barnes as the first African-American lieutenant governor in state history. The only other black politician to hold statewide office was former Secretary of State Vel Phillips.
Voter turnout Tuesday was huge for a midterm election. About 2.7 million Wisconsinites cast ballots, a record in total votes cast and easily surpassing midterm turnout in 2014 and 2010, as well as the historic 2012 recall election.
The Evers victory also breathed new life into a state Democratic Party that had been on the ropes after losing the reins of state government in 2010 and losing the 2016 presidential election for the first time since 1984.
It also appears to spell the end -- at least for now -- of the Walker era in Wisconsin, which upended the state’s politics and dealt lasting blows to its once-formidable labor movement.
Evers will control one of the key levers of the legislative redistricting process after the 2020 Census. With the power to veto a politically gerrymandered map, the lines could ultimately be drawn by the courts as they were in the 1990s and 2000s.
Tuesday’s results in the Legislature illustrate how significant that redistricting power can be -- as well as how Democratic voters are inefficiently clustered in a few densely populated urban centers, a distribution that makes it difficult for their votes to translate to legislative majorities.
Democrats held out hope of wresting control of the state Senate in this election, but ultimately ended up losing one seat instead, even their party swept the statewide races.
Republican grew their Senate majority from 18-15 to 19-14 after Rep. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, won his rematch against Sen. Caleb Frostman, D-De Pere, who won a special election over the summer.
This story will be updated throughout the day Wednesday. Check back for more coverage of Wisconsin’s 2018 election results.