Will Wisconsin Senate Republicans Reclaim Their Supermajority?

 Nathan Conrad and Joe Murray, WRA advocacy team  |    February 06, 2023

The 2022 midterm elections in Wisconsin delivered Senate Republicans their goal of a “supermajority” in the state Senate; Assembly Republicans failed to reach supermajority status. With a 22-11 advantage over the Democrats, Senate Republicans would be able to override vetoes made by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. Only a few weeks after the 2022 midterms, however, that supermajority was gone when longtime state Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) retired midway through her four-year term, triggering a special election this spring to fill the vacant seat.

The 8th Senate District special election includes three Republicans and one Democrat as the candidates running to fill the vacant seat. After the GOP primary election on February 21, the stage will be set to see if Senate Republicans can hold on to this “lean GOP” state Senate district and reclaim their prized supermajority, or if Democrats can take back a seat they last held over 30 years ago.

Both Democrats and Republicans are highly motivated to win this election, and that motivation guarantees that a lot of money will be spent and sharp elbows will fly. Here are four political dynamics to watch as this special election gets underway.


Environmental law lawyer Jodi Habush Sinykin is the lone Democrat running in this special election. On the Republican side, the list of candidates includes Thiensville Village President Van Mobley, Wisconsin Rep. Janel Brandtjen of Menomonee Falls, and Wisconsin Rep. Dan Knodl of Germantown. A February 21 primary will narrow the Republican field to one candidate for the April 4 special election. 

One political dynamic to watch in the Republican primary is whether Mobley or Brandtjen will seek or receive a public endorsement from former President Donald Trump, whose lack of appeal to certain suburban voters is tied to recent Republican losses in November. Mobley was the Wisconsin chairman of Trump’s 2016 campaign, and Brandtjen has close ties to the Trump-Gableman 2020 election fraud investigation issue. A Trump endorsement could help either Republican in a primary election, but it could prove to be problematic in the general election in this district.

Solid suburban district

Wisconsin Senate District 8 includes Grafton, Mequon and Whitefish Bay in the east and Richfield, Germantown and Menomonee Falls on the west side of the district. The district is a “lean GOP” seat held by Republicans since 1992 by former Sen. Darling. This suburban Milwaukee district has, however, been trending more Democratic over the last five years, and Democrats have recruited a potentially strong candidate in attorney Habush Sinykin. Republicans have the edge in this district given its right lean, but the seat is not out of reach for Democrats in a special election. A multi-race composite voting history has this seat at 53.7% Republican.

Supreme Court election

Both Democrats and Republicans believe the statewide election for Wisconsin Supreme Court this April will influence the outcome in the state Senate race. As noted, the 8th Senate District is a district that leans right, and the district was carried last November by U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson as well as Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels. While Johnson carried this district with 54.2% of the vote, Michels received only 51.5%, and Republicans believe the wrong GOP candidate could put this seat in danger. This could be especially true in a lower-voter-turnout spring election that may be driven by issues such as abortion, which hurt statewide Republicans in the November 2022 midterm elections.

Abortion issue

In the 2022 midterm elections, the abortion issue was front and center in the race for Wisconsin governor. After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and eliminated the constitutional right to an abortion, Democrats spent tens of millions on ads that highlighted the 1849 Wisconsin abortion ban as well as Michels’ support of that law. Pollsters and campaign insiders believe that Michels’ support for the 1849 law was a significant factor in his loss to Gov. Evers. The 8th Senate District is the kind of suburban district where abortion rights could play a big role in the outcome of the April 4 special election.

Watch for more information about this race in future issues of Wisconsin Real Estate Magazine.

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