Outside liberal groups heavily outspent conservative groups, and Democrats seemed to have all the momentum: They dominated the special elections last year, ousted incumbent governor Scott Walker in November by one percentage point, and reelected Senator Tammy Baldwin by eleven points. Tuesday’s results show that the conservative base is re-energized, and that the state remains a 2020 battleground.
The results also suggest that liberals overplayed their hand attacking religious and social conservatives. Neubauer and her liberal allies vilified Hagedorn as an anti-LGBT bigot because he had founded a Christian school that upholds Christian beliefs regarding sex and marriage, and because he had echoed comments from Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent in Lawrence v. Texas — saying that, purely as a constitutional matter, laws against sodomy are no different from laws against bestiality — on a blog as a law student in 2005. His involvement with the Christian school caused one business group to withdraw its support.
The attacks on Hagedorn’s religious views “just lit an incredible grassroots fire,” says Brian Reisinger, a Republican strategist in Wisconsin who has worked for Scott Walker and Senator Ron Johnson. “They were calling this guy a bigot. They were saying that he was speaking to hate groups” because he had spoken to Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal group that backs religious freedom.