Dusty: Jo! Bill! It’s coming! It’s headed right for us!
Bill: It’s already here.
It actually started in the earliest of special Congressional elections in 2017, though as the Republican Party candidates won their expected seats anyway, the drop-off from President Donald Trump’s vote percentage was barely noticed, if it was noticed at all. Even when the Virginia and New Jersey Republican Parties were effectively wiped out, that was dismissed as expected. The defeat of Roy Moore in the Alabama US Senate special election, as historic and unexpected as it was, was written off as a “one-off” loss because of an extremely poor candidate, even though he ran as “Trump before Trump”. The unexpected Democrat win in Wisconsin’s 10th Senate District earlier this year caused Governor Scott Walker to declare it an alarm bell, but as it was only one of 33 districts, and sufficiently close to Minnesota’s Twin Cities for some to say that it was simply Minnesota spillover, few heeded it.
That led us to Tuesday. For the first time in 23 years, the liberal candidate won an election for an open seat on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court, and it wasn’t even close. Milwaukee County Judge Rebecca Dallet defeated Sauk County Judge Michael Screnock 56%-44% for the seat that Justice Michael Gabelman will be retiring from at the end of July.
One cannot blame Trump, certainly not directly, for this disaster. Even though Dallet did run a single anti-Trump ad, it was her opening ad during the three-way primary, and, at least in my corner of the state and in my limited exposure to the airwaves, that was the only time he was brought up.
Some of my fellow pundits want to blame Screnock for running a bad campaign. Not only was this his first run for office (he was appointed judge a couple years back), but as is typical in Supreme Court races, he didn’t have much money. Further, for most of the campaign, the right-of-center groups that would serve as his proxy remained silent. One of these groups, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the group that is typically the most-active on the right, did finally cut a single ad, but by that time, Dallet and her allied groups, both in-state and out-of-state, had flooded the airwaves.
Typically, JoAnne Kloppenburg notwithstanding, any overtly-political shots are taken by the allied groups and not the candidates themselves. Indeed, other than the aforementioned anti-Trump ad, Dallet positioned herself as the “moderate” between two “extremists”, with Madison lawyer Tim Burns very much openly campaigning as a hyper-partisan Democrat who would use the bench to destroy Walker and the GOP.
A “funny” thing happened after the primary, where Screnock, with 46% and Dallet, with 36%, moved on to the general election. Dallet assumed the Burns position, going so far as to travel to San Francisco and tell her donors there that she wanted to bring San Francisco values back to Wisconsin.
After 7 years in the Wisconsin wilderness, the Democrats finally got their first scalp, and it was done in a big way. The liberal/Democrat candidate got 80% of the Dane County vote, which cast the most votes of any county even though Milwaukee County is far larger and just as Democrat-controlled (though not as liberal in non-partisan elections), in a “competitive” statewide election for the first time since 1982. That is surprising given that it contains the People’s Republic of Madison. J. Miles Coleman of Decision Desk HQ ran the numbers by Congressional district and found that Dallet took 4 of them, including the 8th (held by a Republican), and nearly took the 7th (also held by a Republican). Despite the race being narrowed to 2 people, Screnock got a full percentage point less of the vote than he did in the primary.
This all came after 7 years of reforms (though most of those happened years ago), the winning of the bidding war for Foxconn and the introduction of a new manufacturing sector to the US, and record-low unemployment with one of the highest labor force participation rates in the country. It also came despite what had been an effective campaign strategy, though underfunded this time.
The wave is real. The only good news, such as it is, is that despite the high turnout in Democrat strongholds like Dane County and the unexpectedly-low conservative vote totals in places like the Fox Valley, turnout was only a fraction of what a typical off-year general election is. However, if things don’t change, and change in a hurry, we’re looking at another 2006, both at the federal level and at the state levels.