2018 midterms expose Wisconsin’s shifting political fault lines

Wisconsin keeps swinging. It swung in 2018, as it swung in 2016, as it swung in 2012, as it swung in 2010, as it swung in 2006.

But if Wisconsin’s battleground status seems undiminished, there are also signs the sands are shifting underfoot.

So many factors figured into the narrow defeat of GOP Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday, among them a tsunami of Democratic votes in the blue bastions of Dane and Milwaukee counties.

But one with major implications for the future involved the suburban counties outside Milwaukee that have long been Walker’s political bedrock.

‘Walker Country’ faltered

Instead, they contributed to his undoing Tuesday, when they failed to give Walker the same spectacular margins he had won in the past.

Waukesha and Ozaukee counties, two of the state’s wealthiest, most-educated and most-Republican counties, “underperformed” for Walker on Tuesday. The governor, who won Waukesha County by 46 points in 2014, carried it by 34 this time. He won Ozaukee by 41 points in 2014 but by 27 in 2018. Nowhere in Wisconsin did Walker’s winning margins decline as much as it did in those two counties.

You could write it off as a blip, but for four things:

One, these places had always come through for Walker. They were Walker Country.

Two, they were the same GOP counties where Republican Donald Trump showed striking weakness in 2016 despite his statewide victory. Comparing the Trump vote in 2016 to Mitt Romney’s presidential vote in 2012, nowhere in Wisconsin did Trump lag further behind the Romney vote than in Ozaukee and Waukesha.

Three, these counties until 2016 had entirely resisted a national demographic trend in which suburban areas in northern metros have moved away from the Republican Party.

And four, the suburbs have been a minefield for the GOP under Trump and they cost the party its House majority Tuesday.

RELATED: The Scott Walker era of GOP dominance in Wisconsin ends with the election of Tony Evers amid massive midterm turnout

Wisconsin’s “WOW” counties — Waukesha, Ozaukee, Washington — are legendary for delivering turnouts and landslides that made them among the highest-performing Republican counties in swing-state America.

They aren’t about to turn blue, and they haven’t “abandoned” the GOP the way some suburban counties have in other states. But the Republican vote has now lagged there for two elections in a row.

In the U.S. Senate race, the decline in GOP support was especially sharp. Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin won 42 percent of the…

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