Governor-by-LD, Senate-by-LD: Wisconsin Democrats enjoyed a happy election night last year, with Democrat Tony Evers unseating the infamous Scott Walker by a 49.6-48.5 margin in the governor’s race and Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin winning a second term against Republican Leah Vukmir 55-45. Democrats also swept every other statewide office.
However, despite these victories, Republican gerrymanders helped keep the state Senate and state Assembly red. And as our new data, which was crunched for us by elections analyst Drew Savicki, will illustrate, it won’t be easy for Democrats to flip either chamber under the current maps even with another blue wave at their backs.
We’ll start with a look at the Senate, where the GOP edge fell from 19-14 to 18-15. Democrats need to net just two seats to take their first majority since 2012, when Team Blue briefly won control of the chamber after recalling a GOP incumbent that June only to lose power in November. However, only half of the chamber is up every two years, which limits Democrats’ targets.
Baldwin’s wide victory allowed her to carry 18 of the 33 Senate seats, but Evers took just 12 of them. Sixteen districts will be up in 2020, and each party holds half of them. Of the 2020 seats, nine voted for Baldwin while just six supported Evers.
Only two of the Republicans up next year hold seats that backed Baldwin (none are in seats Evers won). Dan Feyen’s SD-18, which is located in the Appleton area, favored Baldwin by a narrow 50.3-49.7 margin, but Walker also won it by a wide 54-45; two years earlier, Donald Trump carried the seat 54-41. The other comparable district is Patrick Testin’s SD-24 in the central part of the state. The seat backed Baldwin and Walker 52-48 and 52-46, respectively, and Trump took it 52-43.
Even if Democrats flip these two seats, they’ll need to take a third district to win back the Senate, and unfortunately, they don’t have any great options. The most realistic target is SD-08 in the Milwaukee suburbs, which is held by longtime incumbent Alberta Darling. Democrats targeted Darling during the 2011 recalls, but she held on 54-46. The new Senate map soon gifted Darling with a considerably more Republican seatthan the one she held during the recall campaign, and she didn’t even have a Democratic opponent in 2012 or 2016.
One piece of good news for Democrats is that Darling’s seat moved sharply to the left from 2012 to 2016 while the state as a whole was swinging dramatically to the right, with SD-08 going from 59-40 Romney to 51-44 Trump. However, 2018 underscored how red this turf remains. Vukmir, who represented a neighboring Senate seat, carried the district 52-48 even as she was badly losing statewide, while Walker took it 57-42. There just aren’t any other better targets up in next year, though. Baldwin’s fourth-best GOP held 2020 Senate seat is Luther Olsen’s SD-14, which supported Vukmir 53-47 and backed Walker 57-41.
If Democrats do pull off a hat trick and sweep three GOP-held Senate seats, they’ll still have to defend one competitive district in order to take the chamber. In January of last year, Democrat Patty Schachtner won a special election for SD-10, a seat in the St. Croix area, by a 55-44 margin, and she’s up for a full term in 2020. Another win won’t be easy: Vukmir took the seat 51-49, and Walker carried it 54-43. Trump did even better here, taking it 56-38.
Another way to look even deeper is to sort each seat by each Democratic candidate’s statewide margin and see how the seat in the middle—known as the median seat—voted. Baldwin won the median seat just 52-48, about 6 points to the right of her statewide win. In the gubernatorial race, the median seat backed Walker 52-46, about 8 points to the right of his statewide defeat. Those medians do a good job illustrating the depth of the GOP’s gerrymander, but limiting this analysis to just those seats that are up next year paints an even tougher picture for Democrats: Baldwin won the median 2020 seat just 51-49 while Walker took it 53-45.
We’ll turn next to the state Assembly, which has been in GOP hands since the 2010 wave and where all 99 members are up every two years. The GOP won a 63-36 majority in November, a small drop from the 64-35 edge they enjoyed before but still an extraordinary advantage given the Democrats’ statewide sweep. Baldwin carried 55 seats, while Evers took just 36.
There are a total of 19 Republicans in Baldwin seats, while no Democrats are on Vukmir turf. Two Republicans represent Evers seats, while two Democrats are in Walker districts. GOP incumbent Todd Novak won re-election 50.6-49.3 as Evers was taking his seat 54-44, while Travis Tranel won 59-41 as Evers carried his district 49-48. Baldwin’s best GOP-held Assembly seat was Novak’s AD-51, which she took 60-40.
On the other side, Democrat Robyn Vining won an open seat race against GOP state Treasurer Matt Adamczyk 48.6-48.2 even as Walker was winning 51-48 here; four years before, Adamczyk carried AD-14 in the treasurer’s race 59-36. The other Democrat in a Walker seat is Steve Doyle, who won re-election 60-40 while Walker was narrowly taking his district 49-48.
The median seats also underscore just how ugly this Assembly map is for Democrats. Baldwin carried the median district by a slim 51-49 margin, about 8 points to the right of the state. Walker took the median seat 53-44, which is 10 points to the right of his statewide defeat.
Unfortunately, Democrats will likely need to fight on this unfavorable turf again next year. While progressives were thrilled when a federal court struck down the Assembly map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander in late 2016, the Supreme Court vacated that ruling last year and sent the case back to lower court for reargument.
A panel of three judges is currently scheduled to hold a second trial in July to rule on the legality of the map. However, before that can happen, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to rule on two key gerrymandering cases out of Maryland and North Carolina. The court’s conservative majority is expected to uphold the practice of partisan gerrymandering, which would effectively doom the Wisconsin lawsuit and likely ensure Republicans keep their grip on the Assembly.
P.S. You can check out our writeup for the 2018 Senate and gubernatorial races by congressional district here. You can also find our master list of statewide election results by congressional and legislative district here, which we'll be updating as we add new states. Additionally, you can find all our data from 2018 and past cycles here.