Democratic gains in state legislatures fuel Republican 2018 anxieties

PHOTO: Patty Schachtner, the St. Croix County medical examiner and Somerset school board member, poses for a photo. Schachtner knocked off state Rep. Adam Jarchow in the Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018, special election for a Wisconsin state Senate seat.PlayPatty for Senate Campaign via AP
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Democrats are celebrating another state legislative victory, with Patty Schachtner’s win Tuesday in a Wisconsin State Senate race becoming the 34th Democratic gain since President Trump was inaugurated last January.

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In the same time frame, Republicans have flipped just four state legislative districts from Democratic to Republican control.

A medical examiner from St. Croix County, Wisconsin, Schachtner defeated Republican Adam Jarchow, a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly, in a district that's been under Republican control for close to two decades.

President Trump won District 10, which runs along the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, by 17 points in the 2016 presidential election, and Schachter’s victory is generating anxiety among Republicans as the 2018 midterm elections grow closer.

Democrats have flipped state legislative districts in nine different states since Trump’s inauguration, some in deep red states, including Oklahoma and Georgia, but their biggest gains came last November in Virginia, where they flipped 15 seats and nearly took control of the state House of Delegates.

Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s Republican governor, took notice of Tuesday night’s result, urging his party to view it as a “wake up call” that they are not communicating their policies effectively to voters.

Another powerful Wisconsin Republican, House Speaker Paul Ryan, told reporters Wednesday that the party should learn from the loss.

“Typically we've held this seat, and we lost this seat last night. So yeah I think we should pay attention to it,” Ryan said.

The warnings from Ryan and Walker come as Democrats are mounting attempts to take back both the House and Senate in Washington in November, a goal they're unlikely to meet if they can't make gains in state districts similar to the one Schachtner was able to win Tuesday night.

Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez, who has seen Democratic hopes bolstered in recent months by victories in Virginia, Alabama, and state legislative districts in Oklahoma and Washington state, tied the Republican loss to President Trump.

“These results continue the trend we saw in 2017: Democrats are winning across the country. Voters are flat-out rejecting the Trump-GOP agenda that gives another giant tax cut to the top 1% and wealthy corporations, and they know that the Democratic Party is fighting for working families like theirs,” Perez said in a statement Wednesday.

Despite the victories, Republicans focused on state legislatures are urging caution, and point to the massive gains the party has made in the past ten years nationwide as evidence that what Democrats are touting as a “trend” is not as widespread as they make it seem.

“Right now Republicans are playing deep on Democrat's turf after picking up 1,000 seats during the previous decade. And so you're naturally going to have in the first-term election with a new president, you're going to have a regression to the mean from those all-time historic highs,” said Matt Walter, president of the Republican State Leadership Committee.

“The question then becomes how much of that is going to be executed in a way that has an impact on the overall environment. Is that going to lead to flipping chambers, is that going to lead to a change in the overall environment?” Walter added.

As 2018 nears, and President Trump’s role in helping Republicans win at the state and federal levels remains unclear, there is an acknowledgement that--- while he has proven he can turn out Republicans-- Trump’s appeal could be a dangerous double-edged sword.

“I think that Trump's impact on the overall environment is that he is one of the greatest motivators in the history of American politics,” Walter said, “But obviously the people that don't agree with his policy proposals or don't agree with him personally or just happen not to like him, they’re obviously highly motivated on the other side as well.”