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Split decision in Legislative special elections

A Democrat won a Senate seat long held by Republicans while a Republican won a seat that touches part of Dane County.

It was a split decision Tuesday night in two special Legislative elections being closely watched for signs of which party is building momentum heading into the fall midterms.

Republican Jon Plumer declared victory over Democrat Ann Groves Lloyd in the 42nd Assembly District, which includes part of northern Dane County, while Democrat Caleb Frostman defeated Rep. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, in the 1st Senate District, which covers the Door County peninsula.

Frostman’s roughly three-point victory came in a Senate district held by Republicans for more than 40 years and that Republican President Donald Trump won by 18 points in 2016 and Gov. Scott Walker won by 23 points in 2014.

“Tonight’s special election win for Democrats in Wisconsin is more bad news and yet another ‘wake up call’ for Scott Walker, and he knows it,” the Democratic Governors Association said in a statement.

Frostman’s win doesn’t give Democrats control of the Senate. The GOP still holds an 18-15 advantage. But it marks another in a string of Democratic victories this year.

In January a Democrat won a Republican Senate seat in northwestern Wisconsin and in April a liberal-backed candidate won a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Both results prompted Gov. Scott Walker, who is running for a third term in November, to warn Republicans that a blue wave was building.

Plumer’s roughly eight-point win maintains the Republican hold on the Assembly where they continue to hold a 64-35 majority. Some Republicans viewed his win as a sign that a red wall was forming to block the blue wave. Trump won the district by 14 points and Walker won it by about nine points in 2014.

“For the Dems to make a comeback in Assembly, (Assembly District 42) is the type of swing seat they’re going to have to win,” Republican strategist Joe Handrick tweeted. “But they didn’t.” The Legislature isn’t expected to convene again until January and Plumer and Frostman will both have to run again in November to keep their seats.

All four candidates have filed to run for the seats again in November.

The vacancies were created last December when Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, and Rep. Keith Ripp, R-Lodi, took jobs in Walker’s administration.

Walker could have called the special elections then and they would have been held concurrently with the spring election. Instead he refused, saying they would be a waste of taxpayer dollars because the Legislature had already wrapped up its business for the session. He later relented after three judges ordered him to hold the elections.


Matthew DeFour covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.