Democrats Target Wisconsin Senate for Takeover

 Joe Murray  |    May 03, 2018

Wisconsin Democrats and their third-party allies believe they have a legitimate shot at recapturing the Wisconsin state Senate in the midterm elections, taking place November 6, 2018. Their goal is to flip the Senate from red to blue and, in the process, prevent their party from being locked out of the redistricting process for another 10 years.

Today, Republicans control the state Senate 18-14 with one seat vacant, heading into a special election on June 12. If Republicans hold Senate District 1 in northeastern Wisconsin in that special election, Democrats will need to net a three-seat gain in the November election. On the other hand, if Democrats capture Senate District 1 in June, Democrats must hold it again in the November election and net at least two additional seats to regain control of the upper house 17-16. Either way, Democrats sense they have a real opportunity to take back some of the power they lost in the 2010 midterm elections, one of the worst election cycles for their party in many years.

To achieve their goal, Democrats will likely have to target at least five seats they believe provide the best chance for a three-seat pickup. The five seats that will most likely be on the targeted list include three seats on the western side of Wisconsin and two on the eastern side. Here’s a brief look at the five potentially targeted Republican districts as well as several factors that will influence the outcome in these seats.



2018 election trends: The 2018 election is trending strongly in favor of the Democrats nationally and in Wisconsin. Since Donald Trump entered office, Democrats have won a net of more than 40 state legislative, congressional and gubernatorial seats in off-year and special elections, including Senate District 10 in Wisconsin during the special election earlier this year in January. Election prognosticators project the 2018 elections to be the forth midterm wave election in a row: 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2018. And according to the March 2018 Marquette Law School survey, 64 percent of Democrats are “very enthusiastic” to vote this year, compared to 54 percent of Republicans. This “enthusiasm gap” benefits Democrats in a big way in the Badger State.

GOP open seats vs. incumbents: Two open seats, in Senate District 1 and 23, are on the target list along with three seats with incumbents running for reelection in districts 17, 19 and 29. Generally, it’s easier to flip competitive legislative districts from one party to the other in open seats, and Republicans have two open seats on the Democrats’ target list. To further complicate the ability of the Republican majority to hold on is the June 12 special election in Senate District 1 in northeastern Wisconsin. If Democrats win this seat in June, Republicans could face difficulty with getting the seat back in November. This would generate more momentum for Democrats heading into the fall elections.

Political geography: Three of the five targeted GOP seats are located in western Wisconsin, which is political swing territory. If 2018 turns out to be a strong year for Democrats or even a “blue wave” election year, this could make it difficult for Republicans to defend the three Senate Districts located on the western side of the state. In the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections with former President Barack Obama in the White House, western Wisconsin performed strongly for legislative Republicans and Scott Walker.

The 2018 midterm this fall is the first election that Gov. Walker and the Republican majority will have to run with President Trump in the White House, and all indications point to a good election cycle for Democrats. Geography matters in elections, and western Wisconsin is prone to swinging back and forth between the two parties.

Majorities change: The current GOP majority has been in place since 2011. Prior to 2011, the majorities in the state Senate changed hands five times between 1992 and 2016. And most of the party switches occurred during midterm elections during the Obama, Bush and Clinton presidencies. With Republicans heading into the first midterm of the Trump presidency and the enthusiasm of Democrats so high, will history repeat itself in 2018?

Watch for more information about the Wisconsin Senate in future editions of Wisconsin Real Estate Magazine.

Joe Murray is Director of Political and Governmental Affairs for the WRA. 

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