By David Gordon, Associate Editor
The campaign that led up to Tuesday’s special election for the 10th District state Senate seat was significant for more than just replacing a Republican senator with a Democrat.
It also produced the first-ever direct support of a state legislative candidate by Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin (AFP-WI). The conservative PAC had previously restricted its activities to issue ads that didn’t directly support or oppose a candidate.
Tuesday’s election results were surprising to many observers, as Democrat Patty Schachtner, the St. Croix County medical examiner and a Somerset School Board member, defeated Republican state Rep. Adam Jarchow by amassing some 55% of the vote. Libertarian candidate Brian Corriea was also on the ballot.
The district, which stretches from the Twin Cities suburbs in St. Croix County to include most of Polk and Burnett counties and small parts of Dunn and Pierce counties, has leaned Republican since 2000. President Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton there by 17 points in 2016.
Schachtner will succeed Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, who first won the Senate seat in 2000 and was re-elected most recently in 2016 with 63.2% of the vote. Harsdorf resigned to become secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection in Gov. Scott Walker’s cabinet.
Considerable outside money flowed into the campaign on behalf of both Schachtner and Jarchow. The Greater Wisconsin Political Independent Expenditure Fund spent $30,000 on online advertising supporting Schachtner and opposing Jarchow, according to campaign reports filed with the state.
Two other groups, the Republican State Leadership Committee and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, spent a combined $78,000 on issue ads not directly supporting a candidate, according to One Wisconsin Now, a liberal group that tracks media spending in campaigns.
But the most surprising expenditures may have come from AFP-WI, the state branch of the conservative political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, founded by Karl Rove and David Koch and funded largely by David and Charles Koch. A press release from AFP-WI five days before the election said the group planned to run radio and digital ads in support of Jarchow’s campaign along with direct mail efforts, phone-banking and canvassing.
“The effort represents the first time the group has made independent expenditures in a state legislative race,” the press release noted.
According to the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison, AFP-WI planned to spend $50,000 on radio and digital ads supporting Jarchow plus up to $10,000 on mailers and canvassing. The paper reported that Eric Bott, AFP-WI’s executive director, said this is the first time the group “has engaged in express advocacy – meaning it is advocating for the election or defeat of a candidate with advertising that must be disclosed to the Wisconsin Ethics Commission – in a state legislative race.”
Bott said the group previously spent about $50,000 on issue ads, according to the State Journal. These ads don’t explicitly advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate and don’t have to be disclosed.
The 10th District election results left the Republicans with an 18-14 margin in the state Senate, with one vacant seat.