With some Wisconsin precincts not reporting official results until well into Wednesday morning, record-setting absentee voting — and a blue shift in several suburban districts — have dampened Republican efforts to secure veto-proof majorities in the Senate and Assembly.
However, the GOP is poised to retain control of both chambers, based on available preliminary results Tuesday, due in large part to Republican-gerrymandered legislative districts that will be redrawn next year to account for population changes. A divided government in Wisconsin means it's all but certain any maps drawn next year will once again end up in court.
Nearly 2 million absentee ballots were cast in the election. Results are considered preliminary until officially canvassed.
At about 3 a.m. Wednesday, Democrat Brad Pfaff declared victory over former state Sen. Dan Kapanke in the state's 32nd Senate District — ensuring that Democrats had successfully prevented a GOP supermajority in the Senate. With all precincts reporting, Pfaff led Kapanke by less than 1 percentage point.
"From the moment I announced my candidacy, it was clear that families shared my concerns about the future of our state and the partisan divisions that have paralyzed our Legislature," Pfaff said in a statement. “Today is a new day, and I’m eager to bring together families and communities so we can refocus on our shared values and overcome the challenges facing our state.
Pfaff, who was appointed agriculture secretary by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, is poised to join the same state Senate that rejected his appointment late last year. Former Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling resigned from the seat in May.
Also in the Senate, Rep. Rob Stafsholt, R-New Richmond, defeated incumbent Patty Schachtner, D-Somerset, by a more than 20-point margin. Schachtner, who flipped the district blue in 2018, tweeted early Wednesday she had conceded to Stafsholt.
In another contested seat, Green Bay lawyer Eric Wimberger led Democratic De Pere City Council member Jonathon Hansen by almost 10 percentage points with all precincts reporting in the 30th Senate District. The district is currently held by Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, Jonathon Hansen’s uncle, who is not seeking another term.
In the 23rd Assembly District, Democrat Deb Andraca declared victory over incumbent Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon, shortly before midnight. With about 94% of precincts reporting, Andraca was up by about 1,000 votes.
Democrats have been eying suburban districts like Ott's, primarily those in the counties of Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington, as an area for potential gains in the Legislature.
"This was always a district that people were looking at," Andraca said. "It always was very competitive and I am thrilled to be able to give coters the change they have been demanding."
Andraca said her primary goal will be to push for nonpartisan district maps next year.
"We can try to break the gerrymandering," she said. "It has been paralyzing our state for a decade and this is the year we can do that."
Wisconsin's 13th Assembly District also appears to have flipped blue, with Sara Rodriguez up by nearly 2 percentage points over incumbent Rep. Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield, with app precincts reporting.
In another close race, Rep. Beth Meters, D-Bayfield, declared victory over challenger James Bolen in the 74th Assembly District. Meyers was up by almost 4 points with all precincts reporting.
Several other legislative races viewed as competitive appeared either close or were too early to call.
Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, who sits on the powerful state budget committee, also was up by about 9 percentage points over Democrat Neal Plotkin, with all precincts reporting.
In Wisconsin's 14th Assembly District, incumbent Robyn Vining, D-Wauwatosa, led Republican challenger Bonnie Lee by about 8 percentage points, with all precincts reporting. Vining flipped the seat by a less than 1 point margin in 2018, making her a key target for state Republicans.
In the 24th Assembly District race, incumbent Republican Dan Knodl appears to have held off a challenge from Democrat Emily Siegrist, with all precincts reporting.
In northern Wisconsin, incumbent Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range, declared victory over challenger Keith Kern. Milroy was up by 139 votes, with all precincts reporting.
In southwestern Wisconsin, incumbent Republican Todd Novak was ahead of Democratic challenger Kriss Marion by about 4 percentage points, with 98% of precincts reporting, in the 51st Assembly District race.
A supermajority in both chambers would allow Republicans to bypass any veto by Evers, but it also would have handed Republicans the pen — and with it the possibility of another 10-year reign in the statehouse — for next year’s redrawing of legislative district maps.
Evers has pledged to veto any partisan maps drawn by a GOP-led Legislature and earlier this year launched a redistricting committee to draft nonpartisan districts. However, there appears to be little interest among Republicans to take up the committee’s proposal and next year’s maps likely will be resolved in court — much like past decades under split-party control.
This summer, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, predicted GOP gains in both the Assembly and Senate and a veto-proof majority in at least one chamber as a real possibility. However, Vos in October walked back promises of a supermajority.
Andrew Hitt, chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, said on Tuesday he anticipates Republican gains in the Senate, while the Assembly "is sort of too close to call."
Hitt also predicted suburban districts to play a major role in Tuesday's outcome.
“There is some shifting going on right now," Hitt said. "It’s unclear whether or not some of these shifts we see in the suburbs are permanent shifts, temporary shifts, or whether or not we will see the president come back in 2020 and really exceed what he did in 2016 in those areas. I don’t know that there is any demographic that is not important.”
November’s election comes just two years after Wisconsin Democrats saw one of their most successful elections in years, with the party sweeping all statewide contests and unseating three GOP incumbents — including the ouster of two-term Republican Gov. Scott Walker. At the same time, Republicans in 2018 held their now decade-long majority in the Senate and Assembly, thanks to GOP-friendly districts drawn in 2011.