Wisconsin Democrats were destroyed in the Nov. 8 elections. Here’s a closer look at some of the obvious, and not so obvious, winners and losers following the election:
- REPUBLICANS: There’s no doubt about it, Republicans did even better than they expected. Donald Trump and Sen. Ron Johnson both won, despite never leading in public polling. Mike Gallagher kept the 8th Congressional District in the GOP’s control and Republicans even picked up at least two seats in the state Legislature when it was Democrats who were expected to gain. GOP strategist Brandon Scholz called it a “seismic” victory, while University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor Barry Burden simply said Democrats were “destroyed.”
- BETSY ANKNEY: The campaign manager for Johnson’s re-election effort, she steered him to victory in a race that even Republicans had written off as unwinnable. Ankney kept an upbeat, positive attitude even as Republicans pulled money from the race and Johnson struggled with questions about his support for Trump. Johnson said Nov. 9 it was when the National Republican Senatorial Committee pulled money from his race that he “felt free.” His campaign had quirky ads, including one where Johnson dodges urine while changing a diaper. Ultimately, Johnson outperformed Trump to become the first Wisconsin Republican to win election to the Senate in a presidential year since 1980.
- U.S. REP. SEAN DUFFY and PETE MEACHUM: Duffy, the former Real World reality TV star-turned congressman in northern Wisconsin, went all-in for Trump early. His chief of staff, Pete Meachum, took a leave of absence in June to run Trump’s campaign in Wisconsin. Trump shocked Republican and Democratic expectations with his narrow victory over Hillary Clinton, fueled by depressed turnout in Democratic areas and stronger response in more rural parts of the state like Duffy’s congressional district. Duffy is frequently mentioned as a possible challenger to Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin in 2018.
- SEN. SCOTT FITZGERALD: The Republican leader of the state Senate not only held two Republican seats that Democrats were hoping to win, he picked up at least one seat to increase the GOP majority to at least 20 seats. Republicans privately questioned some of Fitzgerald’s moves on what races he was targeting, but no one was second-guessing him on Wednesday with the largest GOP Senate majority since 1971.
- GOP INFRASTRUCTURE: Republicans have long pointed with pride to their ground game and infrastructure that propelled Gov. Scott Walker to victory three times in four years between 2010 and 2014. That effort, which worked closely with Johnson and helped Trump as well, is widely seen as besting Wisconsin Democrats operation. There’s no arguing with the results.
- DEMOCRATS: Russ Feingold lost for the second time in six years to Johnson, despite being the heavy favorite this year. He passed up two chances to run against Walker for governor, both in the 2012 recall and the 2014 general election, so he could get his rematch with Johnson in a presidential year. The loss could mean the end of his long political career in the state. Hillary Clinton has never won in Wisconsin. She lost the 2008 presidential primary and she lost the primary again this year to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. She decided against campaigning in the state during the general election, a decision that the campaign is likely regretting given her narrow loss to Trump. And Wisconsin Democrats, faced with losses up and down the ballot in a year when victories were expected, has more soul searching to do.
- REP. PETER BARCA and SEN. JENNIFER SHILLING: Wisconsin Democrats in the state Legislature didn’t plan to flip either the Senate or Assembly in their favor, but they were expected to at least pick up some seats. Instead, Democrats lost a seat in the Assembly giving Republicans their largest majority since 1957 and Shilling was in danger of losing her race. She’s currently 52 votes ahead and likely headed toward a recount. Even if she wins, her leadership position may be in jeopardy after Republicans picked up a seat in the Senate, giving them at least a 20-13 majority.
- POLLSTERS and PUNDITS: No public polling ever showed Trump or Johnson winning in Wisconsin. Even Johnson’s campaign said their internal numbers had the race tightening, but he was never ahead. Republicans cautioned, repeatedly, that Trump’s path to victory in Wisconsin was extremely narrow. The outcome left even the most seasoned political observers wondering how it happened. “I am not sure why or how Donald Trump won,” said Scholz, the former state party director. “I’ve been scratching my head the whole time going, ‘What did we miss? What didn’t we see? Where did it come from?’”