A blue wave did not sweep across the nation Tuesday as much as Democrats had hoped, but in Wisconsin the story was different as a blue tide washed away Gov. Scott Walker, attorney general Brad Schimel, and every other Republican running for statewide office.

With only one of the state’s 3,676 precincts not tallied, Walker trailed Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers by about 31,000 votes, a little more than 1.1 percent behind Evers and outside the margin for an automatic recount.

The Democratic nominee for attorney general, Josh Kaul, defeated the incumbent Republican Brad Schimel by about 22,000 votes, but that number was within the margin necessary for a recount.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin easily sailed to re-election, defeating state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) by 55 percent to 45 percent. Democrats also took back the state treasurer’s office and held the secretary of state’s office.

Below the statewide level and especially in the Northwoods, Republicans fared a lot better.

In the Northwoods, Republican U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy held onto his seventh congressional district seat, defeating Democrat Margaret Engebretson with 60 percent of the vote. In the 34th Assembly district race, Republican incumbent Rob Swearingen won a landslide victory over Democrat Chris Meier, winning 62 percent of the vote.

All totaled, the Republicans actually added to their margin in the state Senate, flipping back a seat they had lost in a spring special election. In a rematch of that race in the first district, Republican André Jacque won his race against Democrat Caleb Frostman by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent.

The election left the Republicans with a 19-14 state Senate advantage, up from 18-15 in the last session.

In the Assembly, Republicans looked likely to maintain their 64-35 majority, winning 63 contests and leading slightly in a too-close-to-call race in another. The Democrats won 35 races.

That electoral disparity — Republicans winning 65 percent of the seats in the Assembly, while Democrats piled up more votes in every statewide race — is sure to add fuel to the fire in the debate over redistricting and charges by Democrats of Republican gerrymandering. Republicans reject the charge, though, saying the state is geographically Republican, with Democratic voters clustered in two major population centers, Dane and Milwaukee counties.

In Congress, Republicans held on to their 5-3 edge in seats, with every incumbent winning re-election and the GOP prevailing in the open-seat contest to replace the retiring Paul Ryan in southern Wisconsin.



Independents, cities

Two factors played a central role in the Republican downfall Tuesday: a shift in the support of independents to the Democratic Party, and higher voter turn out, especially in Dane County.

In his three previous election wins for governor, Walker had prevailed in exit polls among independents by margins ranging from 9 percent to 14 percent. He lost that self-described group by 7 percent Tuesday.

Returns from Dane and Milwaukee counties — which more than accounted for Walker’s margin of defeat — show the significance of both factors. Statewide, almost 2.7 million people voted in the governor’s race, or almost 60 percent of the voting-age population. That tops the 57.8 percent of the voting age population that voted in the super-charged recall election of 2012.

But the margins swelled in Dane and Milwaukee counties, which are predominately Democratic with much smaller populations of Republicans. 

In Dane County, Walker lost by 102,000 votes in 2014 out of 253,000 ballots cast and by about 98,000 in the 2012 recall, out of 255,000 cast. On Tuesday, though, Walker lost by 151,000 votes out of 291,000 cast. 

About 36,000 more people voted in Dane County than in the 2012 recall — about 68 percent of Walker’s increased margin of loss — which itself topped the turnout of the 2010 and 2014 mid-terms.

But about 32 percent of Walker’s increased margin of loss in the county can be attributed to a shift in support, presumably among independents in the Republican-challenged county.

In Milwaukee, Walker lost Tuesday by about 138,000 votes out of 391,000 ballots cast. In 2012, Walker lost Milwaukee County by 107,000 votes out of 396,000 votes cast. The turn out was the about the same, but support for Walker was significantly lower, presumably among independents. His increased Milwaukee County margin of defeat over 2012 equaled his statewide margin of defeat Tuesday.

In 2014, Walker lost Milwaukee County by 98,000 votes out of 368,000, winning about the same proportion of votes as in the recall. 

Oneida County is instructive, too. In the 2012 recall, Walker won 58 percent of about 18,000 votes cast. On Tuesday, he won 57 percent out of about 19,000 votes.

In Vilas County in 2012, Walker won 63 percent of about 11,500 ballots cast. On Tuesday, he won 62 percent of 12,300 ballots cast. The turn out was up modestly, but Walker’s support was down a tick. 

Statewide, then, the major increases in turnout in Dane County (and Milwaukee County over 2014) and significantly diminished support for Walker in Dane and Milwaukee counties from 2012, combined with only modest turn-out increases in Walker-friendly territories and somewhat softer or the same support for the governor in those counties, ended the governance of a man who had prevailed in three gubernatorial elections and who is the only governor to ever survive a recall election.

Richard Moore is the author of the forthcoming “Storyfinding: From the Journey to the Story” and can be reached at richardmoorebooks.com.