I think there’s a decent chance of it. As I stated in my column last week, this is the perfect environment for lightning to strike.
Wisconsin’s 58th Assembly District is overwhelming Republican. It is considered one of the safest Republican seats in the nation. With the perception of safety comes the false hubris of certainty. While the district is overwhelmingly Republican, there is a passionate, organized liberal pocket in the district too. They have been successful in getting board members elected to local boards in the district and have even turned those boards liberal from time to time.
The special election for the 58th has some unique conditions that make a Democrat win more likely than it has perhaps ever been. First, the Democrat candidate, Dennis Degenhardt, is a credible, decent, reasonable man with strong private sector credentials. While I may disagree with him politically, he is not a loon or fruitcake like the Democrats usually run in a throwaway race.
Second, Degenhardt has also been working hard to win. At this level of politics, it is often the hardest worker who wins. It’s the candidate who is knocking on doors, shaking hands, attending Rotary meetings, and everything else that goes into retail politics who carries the day. It is work that takes place below the radar, but has a huge impact in a low turnout race.
Third, the Democrats in Washington County are motivated to express their anger about Trump, Walker, and the like. I expect there to be a large turnout among Democrats. Imagine how gratifying it would be for them to win a seat in the heart of Republican country.
Fourth, with motivated Democrats and complacent Republicans, the math favors the Democrats. This special election is the only thing on the ballot and it is off cycle. It’s the middle of a cold January, we are expecting a snow storm on Monday, and everyone just assumes that the Republican will win. Turnout will be low – likely less than 15%. Only the hyper-motivated and habitual voters are likely to turnout.
So let’s do some simple math… There are about 37,000 voters in the 58th. Let’s assume that 75% of them are Republicans and 25% of them are Democrats. That makes 9,250 Democrats and 27,750 Republicans. 15% overall turnout would be 5,550 votes cast in the race. If the Republican turnout is 10%, that’s 2,775 votes cast. If the Democrats turn out a mere 30% of their voters, that is also 2,775 votes cast. One more vote and the Democrats win. And given the tempo I’m feeling from the Democrats in the district, I think that 30% turnout for them is low.
If I were an odds maker, I’d give the Democrats a 40% chance of winning in the 58th next week. And if they do, it will be interpreted as signaling an anti-Trump Democratic wave in this election cycle and it will be national news.