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Wisconsin Democrats fail to take back state Senate

at 01:58 AM ET, 08/10/2011


Two men cast their votes for the 32nd Senate District recall election Aug. 9, 2011, at the OmniCenter in Onalaska, Wis. (Rory O'Driscoll - AP)
Democrats fell one seat short of a chance at taking back the Wisconsin state senate Tuesday, a result that will disappoint organized labor nationally.

According to the Associated Press, State Sens. Dan Kapanke and Randy Hopper were recalled, while Sens. Robert Cowles, Alberta Darling, Sheila Harsdorf and Luther Olsen held onto their seats.

Before Tuesday’s elections Republicans controlled the state senate 19 to 14; they now have a 17 to 16 edge. Two Democrats face recall elections next Tuesday. The party needed to net three wins to regain the upper chamber, which they lost in 2010. That is now impossible.

The recalls were sparked by Republican legislation to end collective bargaining for public employees in the state, a move that inspired major protests in February and March. Democratic lawmakers fled Wisconsin to avoid voting on the bill; Republicans passed it without them. The recall campaigns on both sides began soon after.

Democrats’ chances came down to Darling’s race against state Rep. Sandy Pasch (D), which was not decided until early Wednesday morning.

Democrats have questioned the results given that Waukesha County was one of the last to finish reporting. In April’s Supreme Court election — also seen as a referendum on collective bargaining — challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg appeared to have beaten Judge David Prosser, before thousands of lost ballots were found in Waukesha.

In a statement, Wisconsin Democratic Party chairman Mike Tate accused Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus of “once again tampering with the results of a consequential election” and said that a “dark cloud hangs over these important results.” State party spokesman Graeme Zielinski added, “We believe there’s dirty tricks afoot.” The party’s legal team is investigating.

If these results stand, its an undeniable defeat for labor and for progressive activists.

Democrats and their allies are arguing taking down two incumbents is itself a victory, given that recalling an official is in­cred­ibly difficult and rare. But they invested very heavily in taking back the state senate and fell short.

Whether those groups will continue to push for the recall of Gov. Scott Walker (R) is unclear.

"Last November, the voters sent a message that they wanted fiscal responsibility and a focus on jobs," Walker said in a statement. "In our first months in office we balanced a $3.6 billion deficit and our state created 39,000 new jobs. It's clear the voters also want us to work together to grow jobs and improve our state.

"With that in mind, earlier this evening I reached out to the leadership of both the Republicans and Democrats in the Assembly and state Senate. I shared with them that I believe we can work together to grow jobs and improve our state. In the days ahead I look forward to working with legislators of all parties to grow jobs for Wisconsin and move our state forward."

Outside groups on both sides poured more than $25 million into this fight, in addition to the more than $5 million raised by the candidates themselves. According to the non-partisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s Mike McCabe, Republicans had a slight edge in the money race, but it was “remarkably close.” Unions were the main source of funds for Democrats; limited-government groups such as the Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity invested heavily on the GOP side.

Eight Republicans and eight Democrats in the state senate were eligible for recall elections. Enough signatures were gathered to trigger recalls against six Republicans and three Democrats. One Democrat has already survived his recall election; two more face voters next Tuesday.

A caveat: None of these results are official until certified by the Government Accountability Board. Given what happened with the state Supreme Court race earlier this year, it’s worth noting that these results are not final.

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