Turnout (relatively) high in Wisconsin

at 04:37 PM ET, 08/16/2011


Voters in Wisconsin are headed to the polls again. (DARREN HAUCK - REUTERS)
After high turnout in last week’s Wisconsin recall elections, voter interest was expected to drop in Tuesday’s races where two Democratic state senators are being targeted. One is expected to have a competitive contest, but the state Senate is no longer in play.

But turnout is still pretty high for a recall, if not as high as it was last week.

Election clerks are predicting turnout in the mid-30s. On Tuesday afternoon, long lines were being reported in Kenosha. A clerk in the popular Eagle River vacation spot reported that voting was “brisk,” with 35 percent turnout around early afternoon.

In the predominately Republican town of Minocqua in the 12th district, observers said turnout had reached the level of last year’s gubernatorial race.

Last week, Democrats defeated two GOP state senators in recall elections sparked by Republican-backed collective bargaining legislation. The Democrats, in alliance with major labor unions, fell short of the three victories they needed to win back the state Senate, but they decreased the 19-to-14 Republican majority to 17-16.

During the legislative battle, Republicans also succesfully triggered recalls against three Democrats who fled to Indiana to avoid voting on the collective bargaining issue.

One, state Sen. Dave Hansen, already survived his recall election in July. The other two are up for recall today.

A one-vote majority gives Republicans siginificantly less leverage in the state Senate than the party enjoyed before last week. If the GOP captures another seat, not only will it send a message to Democrats, the party will gain back some valuable breathing room.

State Sen. Jim Holperin (D) faces tea party activist Kim Simac in the Republican-leaning, highly-competitive 12th district. State Sen. Bob Wirch (D) faces corporate attorney Jonathan Steitz in the more Democratic 22nd district.

Huge amounts of money were poured into the Holperin race when it was thought to be crucial, and all that advertising and ground work is still in the mix.

Democrats are doing their best to paint Simac as a fringe figure, comparing her to infamous 2010 Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell (R). They’ve dredged up some odd comments from her past, including a blog post comparing public school teaching to Nazi indoctrination and found out that she failed to pay property taxes on time for eight of the last nine years.

In the Wirch race, Democrats are attacking Steitz as an out-of-state lawyer (he works from Chicago) who doesn’t know the district.

In both races Republicans are focused on the initial issue — Democrats’ decision to flee the state rather than vote on the state budget.

In last week’s recalls, turnout was very high. More than 43 percent of voting-age adults participated.

In one district (the 10th district race for state Sen. Sheila Harsdorf’s seat), turnout was higher than in the 2010 gubernatorial election. All over, it was far higher than in the much-hyped state Supreme Court election this April. However, hyperbolic predictions were not met that turnout could match or even top the 71 percent of Wisconsin voters who came to the polls in the 2008 presidential election.

Conventional wisdom has it that high turnout favors the challenger, but in the Republican recall last week that was not necessarily the case. Of the competitive races, turnout was lowest in the 14th and 2nd districts, and the incumbent Republicans won both. Tturnout was highest in the district of state Sen. Alberta Darling, who also kept her seat.

Given that both the 12th and 22nd districts (where Holperin and Wirch face recall battles) went for Gov. Scott Walker (R) in 2010, it will be interesting to see whether the Republican challengers lag significantly behind his performance last year.

Worth noting: If Holperin surives today, he will be the first state legislator in history to survive not one but two recall attempts during his tenure. In 1990, the issue at hand was a little more local. As an assemblyman, Holperin backed spearfishing rights for the local Chippewa tribe, a policy non-native fishing groups opposed.

If Simac wins, she will make her own history — as the first ‘tea party’ senator in the state.

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