MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A small-town medical examiner has given Democrats across the country another shot of hope heading into the fall election by upsetting a Republican legislator in a conservative Wisconsin state Senate district.
Patty Schachtner’s victory Tuesday over state Rep. Adam Jarchow marks the 34th legislative seat that has flipped from Republican to Democrat nationwide since President Donald Trump took office last year, according to the national Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, signaling backlash against Trump could fuel a Democratic wave in November.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who is running for a third term in November, sounded a warning bell, firing a flurry of tweets late Tuesday urging Republicans to “wake up.”
He told reporters Wednesday morning in Milwaukee that dissatisfaction with national politics influenced Schachtner’s win. He stopped just short of blaming Trump or GOP congressional members.
“Washington and Wisconsin are two very different places,” Walker said. “I think people look at Washington and think there’s not as much getting done as maybe some people had hoped.”
Democrats have already made gains elsewhere, including picking up 15 seats in the Virginia state House in November, and in Alabama, where Doug Jones captured a U.S. Senate seat last month.
In the past two weeks, high-profile Republicans passed up Senate races in North Dakota and Minnesota that were thought to be winnable seats. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty cited the tough outlook as one reason for skipping a run to replace former Democratic Sen. Al Franken.
Wisconsin’s Walker has refused to call a special election for another open state Senate seat, last held by a Republican, meaning it will remain vacant all year until a replacement is selected in the fall.
Schachtner’s win is especially notable in Wisconsin, where Democratic numbers are at their lowest since 1971 in the state Senate and since 1957 in the Assembly. Even with the victory, the GOP still holds an 18-14 edge in the Senate.
The district in northwestern Wisconsin – a mix of rural areas, small towns and two larger college towns just across the St. Croix River from Minnesota’s Twin Cities – has trended deeply Republican for years.
Mitt Romney won it by 6 points in 2012 and Trump won it by 17 points in 2016. Former Republican Rep. Sheila Harsdorf held the seat from 2001 until November when she resigned to become Walker’s agriculture secretary.
Schachtner was the clear underdog, with a bio that included serving as the St. Croix County medical examiner and starring in a 2006 “Wife Swap” episode in which she trades families with a modeling agency manager.
Jarchow is a political veteran in the middle of his third state Assembly and conservative outside groups rallied behind him. Americans for Prosperity and the Republican State Leadership Committee both ran ads supporting Jarchow. Republican state Sen. Leah Vukmir, who is running for U.S. Senate, traveled to the district to campaign for him.
Schachtner won by 11 points.
“Thanks to you, we have sparked hope throughout Wisconsin and the nation,” Schachtner said in a statement to her supporters.
Wisconsin Democratic Party chair Martha Laning was more effusive, posting on Facebook following Schachtner’s win that a “change is coming!!!”
In a statement, the party said the result shows a national Democratic wave is swelling, fueled by voter anger toward Trump and his allies.
Paul Maslin, a Wisconsin-based national Democratic pollster, said Schachtner’s victory coupled with Jones’ win over Republican Roy Moore for an Alabama U.S. Senate seat in December shows Democrats are building inroads with key suburban voters across the country. Part of the Wisconsin district includes suburbs of Minneapolis-St. Paul.
“If this is a suburban revolution, and everything we saw last year keeps happening with Democrats over-performing, Katie bar the door in November,” Maslin said.
Walker announced Wednesday that he has established campaign coordinators in every Wisconsin county. His campaign sent out an email saying Democrats are emboldened after Schachtner’s win and he needs donations “to protect everything that we have worked for.”
Walker has reported raising $3.7 million over the past six months, more than his eight Democratic challengers combined but less than he collected over the same period four years ago before his last re-election bid.
Nancy Sigsworth, a 45-year-old customer service representative for a plastic manufacturer in Amery, Wisconsin, said she’s suffering from a broken leg and her only outing Tuesday was to vote for Schachtner.
She said Schachtner cleared her schedule to help her at a food distribution site in November, proving she was a “regular” person. But she also cited dissatisfaction with national Republicans’ tax cut plan and the GOP’s inability to get other things done in Washington.
Schachtner’s victory “is a good sign that we’re going to get our country divided again so we don’t have one party controlling everything,” Sigsworth said. “I think, truly, the people are sick of politicians not working for us.”
Associated Press writers Scott Bauer in Madison, Ivan Moreno in Milwaukee and Tom Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.