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Will Trump Controversy Impact GOP State Senate Candidates?

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R)

The nation continues to watch developments in the race for president, stemming from Donald Trump's offensive comments about women caught on tape in 2005. The fallout has Wisconsin state lawmakers talking. They're pondering whether the controversy surrounding Trump will affect races for the Legislature here.

Wisconsin state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has backed fellow Republican Trump for months. At a WisPolitics.com luncheon on Tuesday, he was asked about Trump's boasts that as a celebrity, he could freely kiss and grope women.

"You know, the tape was ridiculous and disgusting and embarrassing, not only for the nominee, but I think for anybody that listened to it," Fitzgerald said.

Despite his reaction to the tape, Fitzgerald says his support for Trump remains strong. He says Trump is a much more palatable candidate than Democrat Hillary Clinton. The senator says Trump reminded voters of Clinton's shortcomings during Sunday night's debate.

"Donald Trump kind of rolled off each and every criticism of Hillary Clinton. They stick, and they will continue to stick right up through the election, because there's a lot of validity to it," Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald says many Wisconsin voters also find fault with Clinton. So he thinks they'll stick with Trump through the controversy. And even if they abandon Trump, Fitzgerald is confident voters will choose GOP down-ticket candidates, ensuring the state Senate remains in Republican control.

"It hasn't really trickled down I don't think to the state Senate level. I mean, I still have challenger candidates that are out there talking about what's important to Wisconsinites about Wisconsin government, so I don't know that the top of the ticket, you know, always presents the coattails that you would think it would," Fitzgerald said.

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling believes Fitzgerald has it wrong. She also appeared at the luncheon on Tuesday.

"I think definitely within this state that there has been some big blowback," Shilling said.

The Democrat says the names at the top of the ticket -- the presidential nominees -- give voters an idea of what to expect from the candidates listed below.

"It's at the top of the ticket that people go in and kind of see what's happening at the top of the ticket, and that sort of is the flavor, of sort of all of the candidates within that party," Shilling said.

Shilling says Fitzgerald fails to grasp just how Trump's comments will affect the vote -- in a state that went to Ted Cruz, in the GOP primary.

"You know, a lot of the support early for Trump was tepid, and I think it's pretty cool right now," Shilling said.

Shilling says Trump's troubles won't do Wisconsin Republicans any favors in the legislative contests. And, she says the GOP shouldn't assume it will retain control.

Senate Majority Leader Fitzgerald, meanwhile, says he's confident heading into the election, because the state GOP has a "well-oiled machine" that's working to get voters to the polls.

Ann-Elise Henzl became News Director in September 2017.