A remarkable feat of political engineering, Republicans have managed to transform the liberal stronghold of Wisconsin into a conservative powerhouse. Not only have they seized control of Madison, they've started exporting talent that includes a house speaker, presidential candidate, and the next White House chief of staff.
Besides President Obama, only one Democrat has stalled their progress in six years. That distinction belongs to Sen. Tammy Baldwin, whose 2012 victory threw a wrench into the Wisconsin GOP's gears by defeating former Gov. Tommy Thompson.
But after steamrolling Democrats during the presidential election, Republicans have started drawing up plans for Baldwin's retirement. And the Badger State contest will prove a bellwether for control of the Senate in 2018 and the White House in 2020.
Party officials are already vetting challengers and they have plenty options. Two years from the election, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that four candidates have already been floated.
So far there's Leah Vukmir, a Wauwatosa state senator and registered nurse; Eric Hodve, a Madison hedge fund manager and former Senate hopeful; as well as Kevin Nicholson, a Marine veteran and international business consultant. But by all accounts, Rep. Sean Duffy, who represents the northwestern corner of the state, appears the early favorite.
Charismatic and calculating, Duffy has developed a lumberjack shtick that plays well throughout the state. Quick on his feet as well as the talk show circuit, the former MTV personality enjoys significant name recognition. And by endorsing Trump early, Duffy has earned the national party's loyalty. Already well positioned to make the bid, Duffy would be a formidable opponent.
Regardless of who ultimately gets the nod, Republicans are on a roll in Wisconsin. The GOP has thrashed Democrats in contests for everything from the governor's mansion to the state supreme court. They built that success, as our own Selena Zito points out, by welding cultural and economic issues into a platform that appeals to both rural and urban voters.
Baldwin could prove particularly susceptible to that assault. Extremely liberal, she ranks as one of the least popular members of the Senate. And perhaps more troubling, she'll be alone. The Madison Democrat won't have any presidential coattails to cling onto or much outside help in 2018. Obama will be out of office and the Democrat Senatorial Campaign Committee will be busy defending 22 other senate seats around the country.
On paper, the Wisconsin Senate seat seems like a realistic pickup opportunity for Republicans. In practice though, it will serve as a good barometer for the GOP's health in the state and around the nation.
If the new administration follows the example set by the Wisconsin GOP, there's a good chance the liberal senator loses her seat. If they fail to deliver, Baldwin will probably survive her challenge. And what's more, she will have created the blueprint for stalling the Wisconsin GOP's political machine.
Philip Wegmann is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.