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Wisconsin recalls hit deadline: Where things stand

at 11:55 AM ET, 05/05/2011


Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker testifies at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Thursday, April 14, 2011. (Joshua Roberts - BLOOMBERG)
Wisconsin will play host to nine special state Senate elections this summer in what will be viewed nationally as a referendum on Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) collective bargaining law passed earlier this year.

Petitions were filed against all sixteen state senators eligible for recall, but only nine drives succeeded when the petition deadline passed on Wednesday night. For each seat, petitioners had to collect signatures equal to one-quarter of votes cast in that district in the last gubernatorial election.

Recall elections were triggered against six Republicans — Robert Cowles (Green Bay), Alberta Darling (River Hills), Sheila Harsdorf (River Falls), Randy Hopper (Fond du Lac) , Dan Kapanke (La Crosse), and Luther Olson (Ripon). Three Democrats will also be subject to recalls: Dave Hansen (Green Bay), Jim Holperin (Conover) and Robert Wirch (Pleasant Prarie).

The board of elections, which is currently working on reviewing the signatures, is hoping to hold as many races as possible on July 12. If there are primaries, the general elections for those races will be pushed back to August.

The election results will determine who controls the Wisconsin state Senate heading into 2012. Republicans currently have a 19 to 14 majority, so if Democrats net three seats this summer, they will retake the majority they lost in 2010. (Officials must have held their post for over a year to be targeted by recall, so 17 state senators were left alone.)

Not only would majority status allow Democrats be able to stymie Walker’s agenda going forward, their supporters in the national labor movement use the elections as a warning toother Republicans who, in their minds, overreach legislatively..

Conversely, if Democrats fail, it will be cast by their opponents as a major blow to unions and liberal groups who have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into the recall effort.

Democrats say that the enthusiasm is higher on their side, pointing to a legislative victory Tuesday night; in the state’s 94th assembly district, a Democrat won a seat held by Republicans for 17 years. The former occupant had gone on to work for the Walker administration.

“More change is coming soon, but this victory is a clear pivot point for the citizens of Wisconsin,” state party chairman Mike Tate said in a statement. While Democrats’ preferred candidate looks to have lost a hotly-contested Supreme Court race last month (a recount is ongoing), Democratic partisans argue that it means something to come close in a previously non-competitive race.

Democrats also note that they filed about fifty percent more signatures than was necessary in the six Republican-held state Senate districts — a sign, they say, how energized their voters are. Republicans filed about thirty percent more signatures than are necessary in the three Democratic seats.

All of the Republican districts headed for a special election went for President Obama in 2008. All the Democratic districts targeted went for Walker in 2010.

The only GOP-held district to go for Obama and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004, however, is Kapanke’s — making him easily the most vulnerable of the GOP bunch. The assembly seat Democrats flipped this week includes about one-third of Kapanke’s district. If Democrats are winning any special elections, they should win this one.

The other five Republicans are all in about equally marginal districts. But Darling and Hopper barely kept their seats in 2008, and Hopper is facing other problems that could hurt his chances. Darling is co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, so Republicans will probably go to bat for her. Democrats say that even though Harsdorf won by 13 points in 2008, she’s the next most likely to fall after Kapanke and Hopper.

Of the Democrats, Holperin stands out. His district went for Walker in a big way, and he won very narrowly in 2008. Hansen and Wirch are both in Republican-leaning districts that Walker won narrowly. Wirch’s district went for Kerry in 2004, so Hansen is probably more vulnerable, but in both these seats it really depends on the quality of the challenger.

Both sides have been fundraising furiously, and outside groups are pledging to stay involved. So it’s hard to say who will have the cash advantage.

“We’re just going into this summer like we’re going into a regular election cycle,” said Wisconsin Republican Party executive director Mark Jefferson.

As we pointed out yesterday, special elections don’t actually predict much, even on the local level. But Democratic Party spokesman Phil Walzak argues that with nine elections going, the elections this summer “will certainly be an indicator of people’s satisfaction or dissatisfaction” with Walker.

 
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