FOX 11 Investigates: Possible 'blue wave' in Wisconsin
(WLUK) -- In six months, some believe Wisconsin may be hit with a "blue wave."
Fresh off big victories in the state, Democrats are energized for the fall elections.
"It could be very, very good for Democrats in Wisconsin," said Milwaukee-based Democratic strategist Joe Zepecki.
Republicans have also expressed some concerns about November.
"I think we can expect that Republicans aren’t going to have a great November," said Mark Graul, a Republican strategist based in Green Bay.
After controlling state government in Wisconsin for nearly a decade, some are seeing signs the GOP dominance could be ending.
"Right here in Wisconsin, we’re seeing indications that all of the progressive enthusiasm that we’ve heard about elsewhere across the country may in fact be real," Zepecki told FOX 11 Investigates.
Zepecki has been involved in several statewide campaigns, including Mary Burke's unsuccessful bid for governor in 2014.
When asked what he thinks November looks like for Democrats, Zepecki replied, "the first thing I would say is anyone who tells you they know what is going to happen in November based on an April election or a January election isn’t shooting straight with you. The best you can do right now is read the tea leaves."
Zepecki says the biggest tea leaf is Gov. Scott Walker himself, who has sounded the alarm twice on Twitter.
The first time came after a special election in western Wisconsin in January. A state Senate district President Donald Trump won by 17 points went blue for the first time since 2000. The Democrat won by 11 percentage points.
On Twitter, Walker called it a "a wakeup call..."
Then in April, in a race that is officially non-partisan, Rebecca Dallet became the first progressive to win an open seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court in more than 20 years.
Walker's response on Twitter: "...we are at risk of a #BlueWave in WI."
"Progressives are over-performing in every type of community, urban, rural, suburban, across the board, that was a much bluer map and I think there’s good reason for that which is that people are ready for a change," Zepecki said.
But Graul, the Republican strategist, says not so fast.
"I think it’s two separate things," he said.
As an example, Graul points to 2008 when conservative candidate Michael Gableman eked out a victory in a tight Supreme Court race. A few months later, President Barack Obama won the state with 56 percent of the vote.
"There is no predictive value between those spring elections and those November elections," Graul said. "The electorates are way too different. The campaigns are way too different on what they focus on and what they talk about."
FOX 11 Investigates caught up with Walker at a recent event in Ashwaubenon to ask him about the upcoming election.
When asked how difficult he expects November to be, Walker replied, "I think it’s going to be a challenge. Every statewide election in the state of Wisconsin is a challenge."
FOX 11 asked the governor what is different about this election. He responded, "There’s no doubt about it. The national mood is one where the national media talks a lot about a blue wave and there’s certainly a potential. For us, we’ve got to work hard. We have to get volunteers out. We have to get the message out."
Walker offered another example of how spring elections do not necessarily predict what happens in the fall. In 2008, he was re-elected as Milwaukee County executive with 56 percent of the vote. That same year, Obama won Milwaukee County with 67 percent.
"A lot of Republicans said, 'hey, Scott Walker can win a Democratic county by almost two-thirds. It’s a big sign out there in the fall.' Different approach. Different candidate, different campaign. While spring elections are important, we saw 10 years ago very different things can happen depending on how a campaign goes," Walker told FOX 11 Investigates.
Still, Republicans are expecting a difficult year.
"History also tells us that the party in the presidency is going to have a rough time in that first midterm election," Graul said. "The question is, is 2018 going to be sort of an average year for Republicans or is it going to be a really bad year for Republicans like we saw in 2006? I don’t think any of us know the answer to that yet."
Zepecki says President Trump is a big reason why Democrats are so energized.
"You have two currents at this point: You have Republicans, maybe for the first time ever, looking at voting Democrat, because they are so disgusted by what they see out of President Trump. And you have progressives and Democrats more fired up than ever before. Put those together, that spells trouble for every Republican in the state of Wisconsin," Zepecki said.
When asked if he thinks Democrats might think the election is a foregone conclusion, Zepecki replied, "No."
He continued, "Every progressive I have talked to understands what’s at stake and is working their tail off."
FOX 11 Investigates asked Graul if he anticipates a stronger than normal reaction from Democrats simply because President Trump. Graul replied, "Yes. Of course. I think, sadly, in politics, people get much more motivated by anger than they do by joy. So that’s why you see these parties out of power doing very well in these kinds of elections. We certainly saw that in 2010. Conservatives organized through tea party events and there wasn’t a lot of joy going on there, right? It was a lot of unhappiness and anger and that led to big losses for Democrats in 2010."
While no one knows exactly what will happen in November, insiders say we will get another glimpse this summer. Two special elections are planned for seats in the state legislature. One north of Madison, the other in Northeast Wisconsin. Those elections will be two more tea leaves that both sides will no doubt be reading going into November.
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