The GOP wave certainly had radical consequences in the Badger State, as the unlikely defeats of Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan and Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker indicate. However, despite the bloodbath, there were a few bright spots for state Democrats which show that a good ground game can counteract the media narrative in local elections.
Rep. Penny Bernard-Schaber: Few people would have guessed that a 61-38 Republican majority would allow for the survival of Bernard-Schaber, an Appleton Democrat who won her first election in the 2006 Democratic wave election. In fact, she is the first Democrat to represent the district in over 70 years. However, in the weeks leading up to the election, Democrats were optimistic about her chances, pointing to Schaber's tireless commitment to knocking on doors and her effectiveness in delivering constituent services. Bernard-Schaber squeaked out a 53-47 victory.
Janis Ringhand: After losing by a razor-thin margin to Rep. Brett Davis in a heavily Democratic election two years ago, Ringhand represented the only pick-up for the Dems this year, as she won the Green County seat by several percentage points. Again, the name recognition she had generated over two campaign cycles was clearly the difference.
Kathleen Vinehout: The Alma Democrat won a squeaker over Tommy Thompson's brother, Ed. Who would have guessed Decker would go before her? However, she ran a campaign with an anti-establishment tone, touting her defense of local interests in the face of state government.
Could those who had leadership roles or decades of service have taken more heat because of the anti-incumbent fervor? Perhaps. But I suspect some of the most surprising Democratic losses came as a result of neglect of traditional campaigning door-knocking, stump speeches and media buys.
As for ballot-splitting, take a look at the Winnebago County election results. Winnebago is home to Oshkosh and generally votes for the winner in statewide elections. The Republicans definitely benefitted from straight-party voting here. 22% more voters voted straight GOP than straight Dem. Whereas about half of the votes for Walker came from straight-party ballots, only about a third for Barrett came from party-line votes.