Tuesday was a very good night for conservative candidates across the state. But it wasn’t the tsunami or even red wave some had predicted. As expected, turnout statewide was very low because there wasn’t a statewide race on the ballot. In Madison, for example, the turnout was the lowest it had been since 2015.

Republicans were able to take control of County Boards in Calumet, Door, Kenosha, Marathon, Rock, Adams and St. Croix County. Not long-ago Rock and Kenosha were considered deep blue counties. The GOP also took control of the City Council in Green Bay, and established majorities on school boards across the state. But the biggest GOP victories came in the County Executive races in Kenosha and Portage County. Samantha Kerkman won an upset victory to become the first female and GOP Kenosha County Executive in history. John Pavelski was elected Portage County Executive by a slim margin, but a GOP countywide win in Portage would have been impossible a decade ago. Maria Lazar defeated a Gov. Evers appointee for a seat on the 4th District Court of Appeals. Those three races were the major highlights for the GOP on Tuesday.

What did we learn from the election results on Tuesday? Do they give us any indication of what may occur this fall? Maybe. But don’t read too much into a low turnout election cycle. Candidates and the campaigns they run will still determine the outcomes of the major elections this fall. The bottom line from Tuesday is conservatives did very well in areas of the state they should do well in, and added a couple blue territories such as Kenosha, Rock, Portage and big gains in LaCrosse County. Democrats continued to do well in Milwaukee and Dane County. That’s going to be a problem for the GOP this fall if they can’t figure that out. Recall, Joe Biden won Dane and Milwaukee County by a combined 362,000 votes. That’s a lot of votes to make up in the other 70 counties for the GOP.

The big-league statewide races all take center stage now. Democrats have a crowded primary to choose a nominee to try and defeat two-term US Senator Ron Johnson. Johnson is a top target of Democrats nationally and this will likely be the most expensive statewide race in Wisconsin history. While Johnson’s public approval numbers would appear to show vulnerability, he should not be underestimated. He was the underdog in both 2010 and 2016 when he defeated Russ Feingold. He was behind on the final Marquette Law School poll in 2016 by five point and still won on election night. The GOP base absolutely loves him and will walk through a wall to help him be reelected. My money is still on a narrow Johnson victory, but that will partially depend on his opponent. Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes is leading the Democrat US Senate primary field with Milwaukee Bucks Executive Alex Lasry, State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski and Outagamie County Executive Thomas Nelson also in contention. If none of them draw sharp contrast with Barnes, then Barnes wins that primary. Look no further than the crowded Democrat gubernatorial primary in 2018 that was won by now Governor Tony Evers. Nobody was willing to lay a glove on him and he easily won the primary.
The other big primary is for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. Former Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch is leading in all publicly released and private polling. Kleefisch is the frontrunner. She faces former Marine Kevin Nicholson and State Representative Tim Ramthun in the primary. But look for another candidate to join this race in the next few weeks. This field is not set, and the most recent Marquette Law School poll shows the race is still wide open.

The GOP should have a tailwind this fall to help all of their candidates up and down the ballot. The overwhelming majority of voters believe the state and nation are on the wrong track. Because Democrats have the White House and the Governors mansion, they get most of the blame for this. Also, President Biden’s approval numbers will continue to be a drag on Democrat candidates. Both datapoints make up the political gravity Democrats must try and overcome this fall. It won’t be easy.

Tuesday may have been as spectacular as some had hoped for conservative candidates, but the fall elections still look very good for the GOP.

Bio Link Bill is a Partner with Michael Best Strategies. His combined decades of experience in the Wisconsin Governor’s office, as cabinet secretary, and as a successful lobbyist enable him to be an effective advisor and advocate for clients. Expertise:Strategy, Government Relations, Public Affairs, Policy Advocacy, Stakeholder Engagement