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Democrat takes surprise win in Wis. state senate race along Minn. border that drew national attention

Patty Schachtner of Somerset, Wis., is the new state senator from far western Wisconsin. Forum News Service file photo

SOMERSET, Wis.—For the first time in 17 years, a Democrat claimed victory in the 10th Senate District in far western Wisconsin along the Minnesota border when Patty Schachtner topped Rep. Adam Jarchow Tuesday, Jan. 16, in a special election to fill former Sen. Sheila Harsdorf's seat.

The Somerset woman who serves as St. Croix County medical examiner is the first Democrat elected in the district since Alice Clausing, who held the seat from 1993 until Harsdorf was elected in 2000.

Schachtner said Tuesday night that in spite of high expectations, even she was surprised by the 9 percentage point win.

"Knowing the history ... there was always a strong Republican vote, so I wanted it to be close," she said. "I am super excited."

Schachtner topped Jarchow, a Balsam Lake GOP Assembly member, in St. Croix and Pierce counties. Jarchow edged her in less-populous Polk and Burnett counties, while Dunn County numbers had yet to be finalized.

She said her personal connection with voters likely made the difference.

"At the end of the day, I really work hard at being nice and open and really reflecting Wisconsin values," Schachtner said, adding that when campaign materials against her went negative, "people were turned off by it."

She said she will continue on in her role as medical examiner, but likely with a more administrative focus and less emphasis on death investigations.

"My staff, we have been preparing for either-or, so we're ready," she said.

Jarchow announced on Twitter that he had called Schachtner to congratulate her on the win.

"It was a hard-fought campaign and she prevailed," he said in a news release. "I look forward to working with Patty in Madison and continuing to deliver results for the people of northwestern Wisconsin."

Republicans held an 18-13 advantage over Democrats in the Senate heading into Tuesday, which is now narrowed to 17-14.

She has been the St. Croix County medical examiner since 2011 and has served as a leader on local mental health- and addiction-related initiatives.

According to campaign finance reports, Jarchow received about $43,000 in contributions on Jan. 10, led by more than $38,000 from the state Republican party. Those figures came in after a Jan. 1 report that showed Jarchow with an $81,416 war chest, bolstered by a $50,000 loan. He ended 2017 with about $271,000 in contributions.

Schachtner saw a $13,419 donation from the state Democratic party on Jan. 9. Her campaign ended 2017 with $196,000 in contributions and about $53,000 cash on hand.

The race came during signs of a rising wave of Democratic support in other elections around the country, with some observers calling Wisconsin's 10th Senate District race a possible bellwether for the fall elections. A conservative group sponsoring Jarchow — the Koch brothers'-backed Americans for Prosperity — said in the run-up that "the eyes of the nation will be on western Wisconsin as voters go to the polls in the first special election of 2018."

The seat had been occupied by Harsdorf since 2000 until the River Falls Republican was appointed by Gov. Scott Walker to lead the state's Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.