Only once in party history have Democrats won all partisan executive offices two times in a row in the Badger State

Smart Politics recently highlighted the historical hurdles facing Tony Evers and Wisconsin Democrats in their bid to hold the governorship in 2022 under a Democratic presidency.

Nonetheless, the party finds itself in an unusual position in next year’s midterms to achieve something at the ballot box not enjoyed by Democrats in over 125 years.

By running the table in all statewide elections in 2018, Wisconsin Democrats could sweep all such races on the ballot in back-to-back cycles for just the second time in party history and the first time since 1892.

The number of elections for partisan statewide executive offices has fluctuated over the decades, ranging from the current low of four today (for five offices) to a high of eight during most cycles from the mid-1850s through the early 1900s.

Overall, Democrats have swept these executive offices in only seven of the 74 election cycles with constitutional offices on the ballot since statehood:

  • 1853: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Treasurer, Attorney General, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Commissioner of Prisons, Bank Comptroller
  • 1873 (as part of the Peoples’ Reform ticket): Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Treasurer, Attorney General, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Commissioner of Immigration
  • 1890: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Treasurer, Attorney General, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Commissioner of Insurance, Railroad Commissioner
  • 1892: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Treasurer, Attorney General, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Commissioner of Insurance, Railroad Commissioner
  • 1974: Governor/Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Treasurer, Attorney General
  • 1982: Governor/Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Treasurer, Attorney General
  • 2018: Governor/Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Treasurer, Attorney General

The 1890 and 1892 cycles are the only instance of Democrats sweeping these offices back-to-back.

Democrats came close to doing so in 1855 – but Republican nominee Coles Bashford contested the gubernatorial election and was declared the winner by just over 1,000 votes over Democratic incumbent William Barstow in March 1856 for the lone GOP victory that cycle.

The Democratic sweep in 1873 was part of a broader coalition that included Liberal Republicans and Reformers. Democrats and Liberal Republicans held a state convention in September 1873 as did the Reformers. They unified under a single ticket backing the same slate of nominees.

In 1875, running under the Democratic Party banner, Democrats held every seat except one: Governor William Taylor lost his reelection bid by 841 votes to Republican Milwaukee Mayor Harrison Ludington.

Following their 1890 and 1892 sweeps, Democrats lost all eight executive offices at the ballot box during the 1894 midterms.

Eight decades later, the Democrats followed up their post-Watergate sweep in 1974 by losing the election for Governor/Lieutenant Governor with Martin Schreiber at the top of the ticket. Democrats still held the remaining constitutional offices.

Likewise, four years after the Democratic sweep of 1982, Governor Tony Earl lost his bid for a second term (with a new running mate, Sharon Metz). Democrats held the offices of Secretary of State (Doug La Follette winning a third nonconsecutive term) and Treasurer (Charles Smith winning a fifth term) but lost the race for Attorney General (Bronson La Follette falling short of a fourth term).

By contrast, Wisconsin Republicans have swept 41 election cycles dating back to the formation of the party in the mid-1850s – winning all executive statewide elections in 1859, 1861, 1863, 1865, 1867, 1869, 1871, 1877, 1879, 1881, 1884, 1886, 1888, 1894, 1896, 1898, 1900, 1902, 1904, 1906, 1908, 1910, 1912, 1914, 1916, 1918, 1920, 1922, 1924, 1926, 1928, 1930, 1938, 1940, 1944, 1946, 1950, 1952, 1954, 1956, and 1968.

[Note: While only Republicans were sworn into constitutional offices following the Election of 1942, the GOP did lose the gubernatorial race at the ballot box. However, Progressive Governor-elect Orland Loomis died prior to taking office and thus Republican Lieutenant Governor-elect Walter Goodland was sworn in as Governor in January 1943].

Progressives ran the table once (1936) and Wisconsin voters have split their vote for partisan executive offices 25 times including 15 of the last 19 cycles since 1958 (all but 1968, 1974, 1982, and 2018).

In a sense, Democratic victories across the board in 2018 and 2022 would be more impressive than the 1890/1892 run as the party would hold these offices for eight consecutive years, rather than just four (1891-1894) due to the doubling of the length of terms for constitutional offices that commenced in 1970.

One final note: if Democrats do once again sweep these executive offices next November and flip Ron Johnson’s U.S. Senate seat, it will be just the fourth time the party held all executive offices and both U.S. Senate seats.

Democrats briefly held each of these offices in 1854, 1893-1894, and 1975-1978.

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