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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Dem Win in WI State Senate Disrict Likened to ‘Blue Tsunami’

At PowerPost, James Hohman’s “Unexpected defeat in rural Wisconsin special election sets off alarm bells for Republicans” at The Daily 202 shares some good news for Democrats:

THE BIG IDEA: Ten months is an eternity in politics, but a stunning Democratic victory Tuesday in a special election deep in the heart of Trump country suggests a blue tsunami could be forming.

President Trump became the first Republican to carry Wisconsin in a presidential election since Ronald Reagan by running up his score in places like the rural 10th state Senate district, which includes a swath of five counties between Eau Claire and Superior along the Minnesota border.

Trump won there by 17 points in 2016. A special election was triggered when Gov. Scott Walker tapped a popular state senator, who had held the seat since 2000, to become his agriculture secretary. Last night, Democratic candidate Patty Schachtner won by nine points.

Writing in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Patrtick Marley wrote,

Patty Schachtner, the chief medical examiner for St. Croix County, will take the seat that had been held for 17 years by former Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls). Harsdorf stepped down in November to take a job as GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s agriculture secretary.

In an interview, Schachtner said she thought she beat state Rep. Adam Jarchow (R-Balsam Lake) because the race had turned nasty in mailings from groups outside the district.

“It wasn’t nice. It was mean,” she said of the campaign literature. “People just said, ‘You know what? We’re nicer than that.’”

Hohman noted that popular conservative talk radio host called the Democratic upset “a stunning sertback for GOP” in WI. Hohman adds that the GOP candidate Schachtner beat was a “solid assemblyman,” who ran a “spirited” and well-funded campaign. As for Schachtner’s credibility in the race, Hohman explains:

There is an important lesson here for national Democrats: Schachtner is the sort of candidate who can actually defeat GOP incumbents in red congressional districts this fall. She has deep roots in the community, and she is not a fire-breathing liberal.

Her campaign focused not on attacking Trump but fighting the opioid crisis, improving access to health care and bringing good-paying jobs to the region. She didn’t need to talk about the president to benefit from an outpouring of progressive energy and conservative apathy.

This last point is instructive. Trump’s negatives now get plenty of media mentions, even in conservative districts, and will continue to do so in the months ahead. Perhaps Democratic candidates in moderate and conservative legislative districts should not waste valuable messaging exposure on belaboring the obvious and contributing to ‘Trump fatigue,’ when they could be scoring positive points that distinguish their credibility.

Every Democratic candidate ought to prepare a soundbite pivot for questions about Trump, along the lines of  “Mr. Trump’s problems are obvious enough. I’m more concerned with how we can make life better for constituents in this district. That’s what I want to talk about.” And then, be prepared to back it up with a couple of succinct, well-stated examples.

One comment on “Dem Win in WI State Senate Disrict Likened to ‘Blue Tsunami’

  1. Ben Fulton on

    How relevant was the “good-paying jobs” line to her win? Obviously everybody wants good-paying jobs, but if she’s planning on implementing that via tax cuts for the rich there isn’t anything new here.


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