Wave of GOP-backed candidates win in Milwaukee suburbs, impact on midterms

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- A wave of Republican-backed candidates won in the suburbs of Milwaukee Tuesday evening on April 5, which could be a good sign for the party heading into the midterm elections.

Endorsements and campaign contributions by both parties played a major role in the April 5 election, a growing nationwide trend as partisan politics are increasingly making their way into nonpartisan races.

Three candidates backed by conservatives, including GOP candidate for governor Rebecca Kleefisch, won three open seats on the Waukesha School Board. Karrie Kozlowski, Mark Borowski and Marquell Moorer received the most votes out of a field of six candidates.

Kleefisch endorsed more than 100 candidates on the ballot Tuesday with nearly half, 48, for school board candidates. Of those running for school board, 34 won based on unofficial vote totals.

In a statement, Kleefisch said the results are indicators that Wisconsin voters are "fed up" and want to "take back control of their communities, schools and courts."

Giving parents more say in their child's education and increasing transparency at school districts are becoming key campaign issues for Republicans heading into the fall, but Democratic strategists don't believe that messaging will stick come November when turnout will be much higher.

"Republicans are trying to fight a culture war that only exists on Fox News and in communities they can scream it the loudest," said Joe Zepecki, a Democrat who has worked on statewide and presidential campaigns.

Another race in southeastern Wisconsin that incorporated strong partisan ties was for a seat on the Court of Appeals for District II. Conservative-leaning Waukesha County Judge Maria Lazar defeated incumbent Judge Lori Kornblum, appointed by Democratic Governor Tony Evers last year.

Lazar won by more than 26,000 votes, according to unofficial results. Leading up to the race, attack ads linked Kornblum to Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm and the Waukesha Christmas parade killings.

The party also gained a victory with State Rep. Samantha Kirkman (R-Salem Lakes) becoming the first woman to be elected as Kenosha County executive, beating a Democratic incumbent.

Republican strategist Bill McCoshen said the string of GOP victories shows promising signs, but acknowledged there's more work to be done in other parts of the state.

"I think it was a good night, but places we need to still focus on are Milwaukee and Dane County," McCoshen said. "We didn't make significant inroads in those counties and if we want to win in the fall we have to do better there."

The Milwaukee suburbs are typically considered a deep red voter base, but Republican support has slipped in recent years after former President Donald Trump was elected in 2016. It's one of the reasons Democrats are not worried about Tuesday's results.

"The Trump-era created real problems for the Republican party in Milwaukee suburbs, so I don't think a single spring election is enough to go -- okay, problem solved and they [Republicans] don't have to worry about it anymore," Zepecki said.

Gov. Evers, who faces reelection in November, wasn't troubled by the string of conservative victories either.

"I haven't seen any particular trend," Evers told reporters in Milwaukee. "I know we saw something in Waukesha that people might be concerned about, but I'm not concerned about it."

Democrats had victories as well, scattered throughout the state, including school board races in Mequon-Thiensville, Eau Claire, Green Bay and La Crosse.

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