2 races are next test for parties in swing state Wisconsin

MADISON — Wisconsin Democrats hoped to maintain their midterm momentum on Tuesday, seeking victories in special elections for a pair of open legislative seats.

The seats in northeastern Wisconsin’s 1st Senate District and south-central Wisconsin’s 42nd Assembly District have been vacant since December, when Gov. Scott Walker appointed the Republicans who had held the seats, Frank Lasee and Keith Ripp, to his administration.

Walker refused to call elections for the seats, as required by state law, leading Democrats to speculate that he was afraid Republicans would lose. Walker has warned of a “blue wave” approaching in this fall’s elections.

A judge in March ordered Walker to schedule the contests.

Both districts lean conservative. In the state Senate race, GOP state Rep. Andre Jacque, one of the Legislature’s most conservative members, faces Democrat Caleb Frostman, former executive director of the Door County Economic Development Corporation.

Republican Jon Plumer faces Democrat Ann Groves Lloyd in the 42nd Assembly District. Plumer is a karate school owner and Lloyd retired from her job as a University of Wisconsin-Madison academic adviser earlier this month.

Voters in that district said Tuesday that they were split over whether the outcome will portend anything for the midterms.

“We can sit here and make all the predictions you want, I think it’s a lot of hoopla,” said Mike Busser, 51, a business owner in Lodi who voted for Plumer.

Barb Lord, a 77-year-old Lloyd voter from Lodi, said she wouldn’t vote for a Republican “if my life depended on it.” She said she hoped a Lloyd win would send a signal for the fall that “Democrats are coming in.”

Another Lloyd voter from Lodi, 79-year-old Ardell Christianson, said that no matter who wins, it will be an accurate picture of which party has momentum for the fall. She said she thinks Walker delayed calling the election “because Republicans are afraid.”

Voters on both sides decried how nasty the campaign had become. Lodi’s Earl Bilkey, 77, said he’s a Democrat but that he voted for the Republican Plumer because he thought Plumer could get more done than Lloyd. But Bilkey was also conflicted.

“I don’t know how I can vote for the person I like given all the mud he’s slung,” Bilkey said.

Busser, a lifelong Republican who named his dog Reagan, said he doesn’t talk politics with his friends and wishes the two parties weren’t so divided.

“It’s too polarized,” he said.

The elections won’t change the balance of power in either chamber, regardless who wins. The winners will have to turn around and immediately prepare to run again in the August primary and November general elections. And they probably won’t take a legislative vote this year; the Legislature isn’t scheduled to be back in Madison until January.

There’s still plenty at stake for both parties.

Democrats hope to maintain the momentum from Democrat Patty Schachtner’s state Senate victory in January in a conservative northwestern Wisconsin district and from liberal-backed Rebecca Dallet’s April election to the state Supreme Court.

Republicans are hoping to blunt that momentum and signal they’re still in control of Wisconsin politics heading into the fall.