After nearly a decade of hard-fought wins, Wisconsin voters finally handed Gov. Scott Walker a loss on Tuesday. By the time he leaves office, Walker will have served eight years in the governor’s mansion, surviving two general election battles and one bitter recall attempt.
In the wake of major pro-union protests over his Act 10 legislation in 2011, Walker galvanized a powerful network of Republicans in the Badger State, hardly a historical bastion of conservatism. Exasperation with the left’s attacks enabled Walker to hold onto his seat twice in two years, first during a recall in 2012 and then again in 2014.
Alongside Ron Johnson, Reince Preibus, and Paul Ryan, the governor was one of several high-profile Wisconsin Republicans vaulted to national prominence in recent years. For Walker, the heightened profile was enough to help him launch a presidential bid in 2016.
Although Republicans still control the legislature, Wisconsin hasn’t exactly turned red since Walker first won the governorship in 2010. But Walker has done a lot to build his state party into one of the nation’s strongest, which will outlast his tenure in Madison. When he won the state by less than one percentage point in 2016, President Trump became the first Republican to take Wisconsin since 1984. Johnson defied expectations and won re-election to the Senate in 2016, but Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin held onto her seat by a comfortable margin on Tuesday as well.
State superintendent Tony Evers ultimately handed Walker his loss. The two sparred over health care, infrastructure, massive state subsidies to the Foxconn manufacturer complex, and the economy this fall. Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is currently sitting under three percent, and Walker was eager to tout economic progress under his watch. But strong Democratic turnout in a purple state is hard for Republicans to overcome.
Over the course of the campaign, Walker focused on urging voters not to undo gains initiated under his administration. Unlike other Republicans, he latched onto the threat of a blue wave as a campaign strategy earlier this year, hoping to mobilize supporters and raise the stakes by openly acknowledging the gravity of the threat. Unfortunately for Walker, however, his sharp warnings turned out to be prescient.