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Wisconsin State Legislative Election Results Live Blog
While we’ll certainly have an eye on the presidential election in this important swing state, our main focus tonight will be on the 115 elections on the ballot for seats in the State Legislature.
The Recombobulation Area is a weekly opinion column by veteran Milwaukee journalist Dan Shafer. Learn more about it here.
This is a day you’re going to remember.
You are going to remember being in this place at this time in this moment in history. Being in one of the most important swing states during this of all elections has truly been an experience. And now, at long last, we are approaching the finish line of this exhausting, inspiring, interminable campaign. Congratulations, you’ve made it.
Here at The Recombobulation Area, we will be covering the election, of course. But as our name suggests, our coverage will largely come later, once the process has concluded, and once we’ve had time to gather our things and yes, recombobulate. You can expect a column later this week.
But Election Night will not be a night off around here. We will not be reporting any official results or making any projections; we’ll leave that to the experts. What you will see is the type of analysis and commentary you’ve come to expect from The Recombobulation Area. While the presidential election results will certainly be in the mix, our main focus tonight will be on the state legislative elections. There are 115 races on the ballot for State Senate and State Assembly today. We previewed all of them, and we’ll be monitoring each and every one as results are reported.
This updating live blog will provide analysis and commentary from yours truly, and it will evolve as the night evolves. You’ll be able to check back here for ongoing updates. And as you might expect, I’ll be active on Twitter at @DanRShafer.
Live updates here:
10:30 a.m.: In a year that’s seen an unprecedented convergence of crises met with unfathomable levels of inaction in the Republican-controlled Wisconsin State Legislature, the end result of an election with 115 Senate and Assembly seats on the ballot is that almost everything is staying the same.
In the State Assembly, just two of 99 seats will change parties. Democrats Sara Rodriguez and Deb Andraca have flipped suburban districts. But the larger calculus for the State Assembly remains largely unchanged. The balance of power goes from 63 to 36 in favor of Republicans to 61 to 38 in favor of Republicans.
In the State Senate, the Republican margin will actually grow to 21-12. Rob Stafsholt flipped a northwestern Wisconsin back to red, and Democrats will lose control of the 30th District in the Green Bay area.
In both the Senate and the Assembly, Democrats prevented the GOP from gaining a supermajority. That will be important with the looming redistricting fight coming next year. But it hardly sends a message to the leaders in the State Legislature that their leadership at a time of genuine crisis has been unacceptable.
The leaders who’ve failed Wisconsin have not been held accountable. Robin Vos won re-election with ease, Scott Fitzgerald failed up to Congress, Jim Steineke ran unopposed, and many of the vulnerable Republicans on the ballot will see another term.
Meanwhile, new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths are reaching record highs nearly every day, and there’s no sign that anything is slowing down. The simultaneous pandemic-recession-historic protest movement that we’re experiencing will likely remain unaddressed by the least active full-time Legislature in the nation.
Wisconsin continues to be stuck.
9:40 a.m.: All throughout the campaign, I wrote about the crucial Green Bay/Fox Valley region. While the region certainly drifted to the right over the past decade, Sen. Tammy Baldwin has found success there, and the Biden campaign signaled its desire to follow her path to victory in Wisconsin.
In Baldwin’s 10-point re-election victory in 2018, she won a majority of votes in Brown, Door, Outagamie and Winnebago counties. Biden only won a majority in one of those counties — Door. Here’s how the votes broke down in those four counties.
9:05 a.m.: Good morning!
A few more notable results from the late night/early morning.
In the State Senate, Republicans are going to flip control of the open seat in the 30th District. Eric Wimberger defeated Democrat Jonathon Hansen by a nearly 10-point margin.
Current State Senator Dave Hansen, who is retiring at the end of his term after 20 years in the seat, has said that his district was one that “Republicans told me they gerrymandered specifically to defeat me.” While the gerrymander didn’t work on the elder Hansen, who won a two-point victory in a district Trump carried by a 10-point margin in 2016, it successfully defeated the younger Hansen running to be his uncle’s successor.
Elsewhere in the State Senate: Alberta Darling won re-election yet again. She has held her seat since 1993, and hadn’t faced a challenger since 2008. Neal Plotkin won nearly 46% of votes, not enough to truly challenge Darling. Plotkin’s margin was closer than Hansen’s, though, which comes as a surprise.
In the Assembly, the Green Bay area results delivered victories for incumbent David Steffen, who won 53%-47% over Democratic challenger Kathy Hinkfuss, and Republican John Macco, who defeated Kristin Lyerly 52%-48%.
In western Wisconsin, Republicans also fared well. Treig Pronschinske won a decisive 59%-41% victory over Amanda White Eagle, and Loren Oldenburg won 56%-44% over Josefine Jaynes.
So, going into the night, there were five State Senate races and ten State Assembly races I was watching closely. Republicans won four of the five Senate races and seven of the ten Assembly races. This was not the night that Democrats were hoping for in the Wisconsin State Legislature.
5:00 a.m.: As Milwaukee County votes push Joe Biden into the lead in the race for Wisconsin’s ever-important electoral votes, those Milwaukee County votes will deliver victories to Democratic candidates in the State Legislature.
Here’s the quick rundown of notable winners from our races to watch:
Robyn Vining wins re-election, defeating Bonnie Lee, 54% to 46%. She increased her margin of victory from <0.5% in 2018 to 8% in 2020.
Sara Rodriguez flips a Republican-held seat, defeating incumbent Rob Hutton. She won by just 725 votes.
Dan Knodl keeps his seat in the 24th District. Emily Siegrist ran a closer race than she did in 2018, but the incumbent won this rematch, 51.5% to 48.5%.
Republican Todd Novak won in 2018 by 332 votes, and won in 2014 by just 64 votes. Despite a strong challenge from Kriss Marion, Novak will win again. This time, it appears as if he’ll win by more than 1,000 votes.
Incumbent Ken Skowronski defeats Jacob Malinowski, 50% to 46.5% in the southwestern Milwaukee County district that’s long been in Republican control.
Democratic challenger Erik Brooks will also come up short in his campaign to unseat Jessie Rodriguez. This one wasn’t all that close as Rodriguez won by a nearly 10-point margin.
4:00 a.m.: It’s Milwaukee in the dead of night that could prove to be the turning point in the election.
Joe Biden leads in Wisconsin. Bring on the dawn.
3:10 a.m.: Brad Pfaff is declaring victory in the 32nd District.
The Democrats absolutely needed this seat, and results are extremely close, but it looks like they've succeeded (barely).
This was an open seat following the resignation of Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Schilling. Pfaff choosing to enter the race improved the odds for Democrats in this swingy district in the La Crosse area. He most recently served as the agriculture secretary-designee under Gov. Evers, was a long-time staff member for Rep. Ron Kind, and worked for the USDA under President Obama, so he was certainly a big name in the district.
But this was an extremely close race, closer than many were expecting. Just 589 votes separated Pfaff from Republican Dan Kapanke. The final count was 48,853 votes for Pfaff, 48,264 votes for Kapanke.
1:55 a.m.: We started the night with ten State Assembly races that were projected to be close — nine of which were held by Republican incumbents.
Deb Andraca has flipped one of those seats for the Democrats. We’re still waiting on results from many of those seats, which are in the Green Bay area and in the Milwaukee County suburbs. where absentee votes have not yet been reported.
But one that Democrats have lost is in the 30th District. Democratic challenger Sarah Yacoub will lose to Republican Shannon Zimmerman. Like the 10th Senate District, this district is in northwestern Wisconsin, and Democrats are getting crushed in that part of the state.
This is bad.
From 2012 to 2016, Milwaukee County’s voter turnout dropped more precipitously (-7.5%) than any of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. Even if some suburban communities pull the overall number up for Milwaukee County, the city’s turnout remaining low from 2016 to 2020 is a massive disappointment.
1:10 a.m.: Robin Vos won re-election in the 63rd District.
It was always a long-shot, but Joel Jacobsen and the Democrats aren’t coming close to the margin they had expressed hope for. Vos won by a 22-point margin in 2018, and he’ll win by about a 17-point margin now in 2020.
Democrats spent more than $700,000 on the race in the losing effort.
I can’t help but think back to the earliest days of this campaign, when initial challenger in the district, Robert Prailes, called off his campaign after a week, saying “my family has also been the target of some really ugly and personal attacks.” Racine County Democratic activist Susan Sheldon said “People don’t feel safe running against Vos.”
Alas, the man chiefly responsible for the worst coronavirus outbreak in America wins another term.
12:55 a.m.: David Armstrong is going to win in the 75th District. This was an expected victory in an open seat for Republicans, who have held the seat since 2014.
What’s notable about this win is that Armstrong will be the first member of the Wisconsin State Legislature who has openly expressed favorability for the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory.
He told the Associated Press that he finds elements of the conspiracy theory credible, and has liked and shared QAnon content. He also made news earlier this year when the Journal Sentinel reported that he shared videos featuring KKK leader David Duke and tweeted in support of the confederate flag.
He’ll defeat Democratic candidate John Ellenson, an educator and former Wisconsin Badgers basketball player, by a more than 20-point margin.
12:30 a.m.: Things are not looking good for Democrats in the State Senate.
The seat in the 10th District is currently held by Democratic Senator Patty Schachtner, who won an upset victory special election in 2018. She is going to lose that seat. Republican Rob Stafsholt has a sizable lead, and could end up winning by a 25-point margin. He’ll join his Assembly Republican colleagues Czaja-Felzkowski and Ballweg on the move to the State Senate. This was the most likely seat for the Republicans to flip in the State Senate.
Republicans will also, as expected, win in the 18th District. All of those votes are now in, and Dan Feyen has defeated Aaron Wojciechowski 59% to 41%.
Another race headed toward a Republican victory is in the 24th District, where incumbent Patrick Testin leads Democratic challenger Paul Piotrowski by a greater than 10-point margin. Testin chairs the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, which has not met since March, despite the ongoing pandemic.
12:00 a.m.: Deb Andraca has declared victory in the 23rd District.
“I want to thank my opponent, Jim Ott, for his fourteen years of public service,” she said in a statement. “I am so honored to be the next Representative of the 23rd Assembly District and I am humbled to have earned voters’ trust. I look forward to working with all of my constituents, whether or not their vote was cast for me. I promise to listen, to work hard, and to earn the support of the people of this district each day.”
This was the most likely seat for the Democrats to flip in the State Assembly. The district includes southeastern Ozaukee County, and Milwaukee County suburbs of Bayside, Fox Point and Whitefish Bay.
Milwaukee County has not yet reported results from absentee ballots, but Andraca has won a majority of the votes that have already been reported. Those absentee ballots are likely to favor Democrats, which sets her up for a victory in the district.
She’ll replace Jim Ott, who has served in the Assembly since 2007 and is the Chair of the Committee on the Judiciary.
This is just the second seat Democrats will have flipped with the current legislative maps dating back to 2013.
11:35 p.m.: Let’s talk about some open seats.
First, the State Senate. There were a number of retirements and resignations that are shaping the races on the ballot this year.
Tom Tiffany resigned his seat to run for the open congressional seat previously held by Republican Sean Duffy, and after winning tonight, he’s going to be serving a full term in that seat. Republican Mary Czaja-Felzkowski is going to win the race for his State Senate seat by a decisive margin over Democrat Ed Vocke with about two-thirds of the vote. She moves up from the Assembly to the Senate in the “Safe Republican” 12th District.
In the 14th District, another Assembly representative, Joan Ballweg, will move on up to the Senate after defeating Joni Anderson. Like the 12th, this is a “Safe Republican” district and she’ll win with about two-thirds of the vote. She’ll replace Luther Olsen, who is retiring after serving in the State Senate since 2004.
Also on the Republican side: Julian Bradley is going to win in the 28th District. He’ll make history by becoming the first Black Republican ever to serve in the Wisconsin State Senate.
On the Democratic side, as mentioned previously, Kelda Roys will soon represent the 26th District. Also in Dane County: Melissa Sargent will move from the Assembly to the Senate with a decisive victory, winning nearly three-fourths of votes in the 16th District.
Two open seats remain close: Pfaff vs. Kapanke in the 32nd (La Crosse area) and Hansen vs. Wimberger in the 30th (Green Bay area). Both will be close.
The vote-counting in Green Bay is going to stretch into the wee hours of the morning.
10:00 p.m.: The Wisconsin State Senate will be getting a new Majority Leader in 2021.
Scott Fitzgerald will be failing upward to the U.S. House of Representatives. He is among those chiefly responsible for the disastrous state of Wisconsin’s politics, and he certainly does not deserve a promotion. And yet, he faced no real opposition in the primary and will cruise to an easy election in the general. He’s now headed to Washington.
This was expected in the very conservative 5th Congressional District, where Republican Jim Sensenbrenner held the seat since 1979. The district includes all of Jefferson County, parts of Dodge, Washington, and Waukesha counties, and slivers of western Milwaukee County. Whichever Republican candidate was on the ballot was inevitably going to win this seat.
Fitzgerald has been in the State Senate since 1995, and has been the Majority Leader since 2011. His departure from the Legislature will be a significant one.
Senate President Roger Roth of Appleton appears a top candidate to step up into the position. We’ve seen in the past how the state Republican Party builds its bench and elevates its leaders when the time comes. Two other party officials -- Assistant Majority Leader Dan Feyen and Majority Caucus Vice-Chair -- are currently on the ballot, and while Majority Caucus Chair Van Wanggaard promises to be a key voice among Republicans going forward, Majority Leader doesn’t seem like a fit. Could Dale Kooyenga of Brookfield or Chris Kapenga of Delafield jump into the mix? It’s possible, and Kapenga has mentioned the possibility before, but my speculative guess would be Roth.
So, Fitzgerald’s time in the Wisconsin State Legislature will soon come to an end. There’s an interesting retrospective to eventually be written about Scott Fitzgerald and his time leading the Wisconsin State Senate. He hasn’t been the most singularly polarizing voice, but he’s been right there with Vos and with former governor Scott Walker every step of the way as they’ve advanced damaging policies for Wisconsin. This year, he’s played a memorably key role in the lack of statewide response to the coronavirus outbreak, prioritizing Badger football above all as cases, hospitalizations and deaths skyrocket in the state (and the Badgers play one game before shutting down over an outbreak within their ranks).
The State Senate will be different without Fitzgerald. How much different remains to be seen.
8:35 p.m.: We’re in for a long night here in Wisconsin.
Election officials won’t be done counting ballots until late into the night, but we know that a few of the state legislative races have already been decided.
In the State Senate, there were four uncontested races for the general election, and in the State Assembly, there are 17 incumbent representatives running unopposed.
The State Senate will be getting a new member in Kelda Roys, who won a competitive primary in Madison in August, defeating a group of six other candidates. She will represent the 26th Senate District, which has been represented by Fred Risser for 64 years.
Two Democratic incumbents will keep their seats. Lena Taylor of Milwaukee will win another four-year term. By the end of that term, she’ll have been in the State Senate for 20 years. Robert Wirch of Kenosha has been in the chamber even longer, since 1997.
On the Republican side, Duey Stroebel of Saukville will win another term. As a member of the Joint Finance Committee and the Chair or Vice-Chair of several committees, he will remain among the more prominent Republican leaders in the State Legislature until 2024, at least.
So, four of the 16 races on the ballot for State Senate this year have been decided.
In the Assembly, there are six Democrats and 11 Republicans who will see another two-year term.
Here’s the full list:
The biggest name on this list is Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke. I expressed my disappointment that he’s not facing any accountability from voters, given the months of inaction in the Assembly he’s presided over, over in my State Assembly preview (scroll to the end). But as Wisconsin reaches another record-high in new cases — 5,771 today alone — it bears repeating that he is among those chiefly responsible for the state becoming the epicenter of coronavirus in America, and it’s a real shame he didn’t have to defend his abysmal record.
Of the Democratic candidates, four are from Milwaukee and two are from Madison. Of the Republicans, most are clustered in the eastern half of the state.
So, 17 of the 99 seats in the State Assembly have already been decided.
There were 115 state legislative races on the ballot this year. Right away, of those have already been decided.
Only 94 to go.
3:30 p.m.: While Republicans are expected to maintain control in the State Senate and State Assembly, Democrats have been optimistic heading into Election Day, and with good reason.
With several real opportunities for Democrats to pick up seats, particularly in the Milwaukee suburbs and Green Bay area, Republican margins in the Legislature could shrink to their smallest in a decade.
Picking up seats hasn’t happened often for Democrats since the last round of redistricting. Since 2013, the year Robin Vos became Assembly Speaker and the current gerrymandered maps went into effect, only current state representative Robyn Vining of Wauwatosa has flipped a seat from red to blue. With the approval rating of the Republican-controlled Legislature dropping to embarrassing lows, and Democrats optimistic about a Joe Biden victory at the top of the ticket, in all likelihood, a few more Democrats will join her in that exclusive group tonight.
In 2018, Republicans in the State Assembly maintained an overwhelming majority despite winning fewer than 50% of votes. Now in 2020, Democrats are again expected to win a majority of votes, but pick up more than just one seat.
These are the races we’re keeping an eye on heading into the night:
In the State Senate, a number of resignations and retirements made it seem as if the map could shift toward a supermajority for Republicans, but the odds of that have decreased the closer we’ve come to Election Day. Jonathon Hansen in the 30th and Brad Pfaff in the 32nd are competing in swingy districts, and could provide key victories in open seats previously held by Democrats.
Tonight, these are the key races we’ll be watching:
2:30 p.m.: Milwaukee election officials are busy counting your votes and you can watch the process unfold live:
1:00 p.m.: I don’t know if Robin Vos is actually at any risk of losing tomorrow. It would be the upsets of all upsets if Joel Jacobsen won.
I do know that Vos has done a truly abhorrent job as Assembly Speaker. He has proven himself to be an unfit leader at a time of genuine crisis.
Everything I wrote about Vos in my State Assembly preview happened in his current two-year term. He also blamed the coronavirus outbreak on immigrant "culture." He said that about his own constituents in Racine County.
Honestly, I'll never understand why this wasn't the end for him as Assembly Speaker.
The thing is, even if he's winning in his gerrymandered Assembly district, he doesn't have to be the Republicans' leader. They chose him.
All 63 Republicans in the Wisconsin State Assembly refused to stand up to him, refused to choose someone else. His failure is theirs, too.
Today, you have a unique opportunity to hold them all accountable — and to send a message to Robin Vos. Don't let that opportunity pass you by.
Check back for more throughout the night.
Dan Shafer is a journalist from Milwaukee who writes and publishes The Recombobulation Area. He previously worked at Seattle Magazine, Seattle Business Magazine, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine, and BizTimes Milwaukee. He’s also written for The Daily Beast, WisPolitics, and Milwaukee Record. He’s on Twitter at @DanRShafer.
Follow Dan Shafer on Twitter at @DanRShafer.