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Split Decision in Tuesday’s Special Elections

By John Forester | June 13, 2018

From WisPolitics.com …

Dem Caleb Frostman won a special election Tuesday for the vacant 1st SD, flipping a seat in northeastern Wisconsin that Donald Trump won by 17.5 points two years ago.

Meanwhile, Republican Jon Plumer kept the 42nd AD in GOP hands, running close to the president’s 2016 performance in the district northeast of Madison.

Frostman, the former economic development director for Door County, had 51.4 percent of the vote over GOP state Rep. Andre Jacque, according to numbers WisPolitics.com collected from county websites. By comparison, Hillary Clinton won 39.8 percent of the vote there in 2016.

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, noted it was the first time a Dem had represented the seat since Gerald Ford was president.

Frostman, who will replace Frank Lasee after the Republican resigned to take a job in the Walker administration, said his campaign worked the doors hard. He also said voters in Door County, where he lives, remember the things he accomplished on a non-partisan basis with Republicans, Dems and others.

“That resonated with folks, and they remember that,” he said.

Meanwhile, Plumer largely matched Trump’s performance in the 42nd AD as he beat Dem Ann Groves Lloyd.

Plumer pulled 53.9 percent of the vote, according to unofficial numbers collected by WisPolitics.com, though that tally doesn’t include votes for the independent candidate in the 42nd or write-ins. The results will not be official until after county boards of canvass meet.

Trump, meanwhile, took just shy of 53.9 percent in 2016 as he beat Clinton by more than 14 points with write-ins and third-party candidates included.

The final days of the race included stories about social media posts from both candidates and Plumer’s disorderly conduct charge more than two decades ago. The two will face each other in a November rematch for the seat northeast of Madison.

Plumer told WisPolitics.com in a phone interview he didn’t plan to change his message in the November race, though he expected the spotlight to shift to other races.

“At my age, this is what you get,” said Plumer, who owns a karate studio in Lodi. “I’m not going to change.”

Plumer will replace Republican Keith Ripp, who resigned to take a job in the Walker administration.

After Lasee and Ripp resigned their seats in the Legislature, Gov. Scott Walker declined to call special elections for either seat. But Eric Holder’s national Democratic Redistricting Committee filed a lawsuit that eventually led to an order for Walker to call the elections. Republicans briefly sought to change state law in an attempt to thwart a Dane County judge’s order to call the elections. But another Dane County judge and one from the 2nd District Court of Appeals in Waukesha County refused requests to delay the order to call the elections so lawmakers could debate the bill. The measure ultimately did not come up for a floor vote in either house.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, promised a competitive race in the fall for the 1st SD and complained the seats should have been filled in the fall election.

“With low turnout in the special election tonight, it proved yet again that this was a complete waste of taxpayer money,” Fitzgerald said.

Holder, meanwhile, hailed Frostman’s win. His group has pledged to play in legislative races this fall in an effort to help Dem candidates and reverse maps Republicans drew in multiple states in 2011 during the last round of redistricting.

“Scott Walker and his Republican allies gerrymandered this district for their own partisan benefit, but the citizens of Wisconsin are clearly speaking out this year to demand a state government that better represents their values,” he said.

Shilling said the results showed momentum is on the side of Dems headed toward the fall, while Assembly Speaker Robin Vos argued Plumer’s win shows what Republicans can do with the right candidate and a good operation.

Insiders were watching both seats for signs of the political climate as the November elections approach after Dems won the 10th SD in a January special election, flipping a seat Trump won by 17 points, and watching liberal Milwaukee County Judge Rebecca Dallet win an open seat on the state Supreme Court by a dozen points.

Assembly Republicans immediately proclaimed talk of a “blue wave” this fall had slowed to a “blue trickle. But Shilling said the “electorate is turning” now.

The La Crosse Dem, who is on the verge of turning a 20-13 minority to start 2017 into an 18-15 deficit, said the win continues to expand the map in Wisconsin. She said a Dem has represented the seat for only six of the past 72 years and that her party was even competitive in the district shows a “massive” public opinion shift toward Dems.

“They are dissatisfied with the agenda that has been pushed for the last eight years,” Shilling said. “The electorate is swirling.”

The Republican Assembly Campaign Committee and the state GOP poured resources into Plumer’s campaign in the final days of the race. A check of campaign finance reports shows the two combined to put $196,278 into Plumer’s campaign since May 29.

Vos acknowledge he put “all hands on deck” to hold the seat. The Rochester Republican said it’s the kind of district Dems would have to win in November in order to take back the majority, which will be back to 64-35 after Plumer is sworn in.

“Them not having a victory tonight goes to show the formula for Assembly Republicans of good organization, candidates and messaging works,” Vos said.

Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said Plumer’s performance was short of the 58.6 percent of the vote that Ripp pulled in 2016 even as he ran on Dem issues.

“One of the things to look at is voters here elected a candidate who supports investments in public education, funding transportation, redistricting reform and protecting pre-existing conditions,” Hintz said. “So the blue wave happened. It just happened with a Republican who endorsed the Democratic agenda.”

See Wisconsin Public Radio coverage here.

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