Georgene Voutila cheers during last week’s recall election. (Benny Sieu/AP)

State Sen. Bob Wirch (D) defeated corporate attorney Jonathan Steitz (R) in the 22nd district. State Sen. Jim Holperin (D) defeated tea party activist Kim Simac (R) in the 12th.

Gov. Scott Walker (R) won both seats in the 2010 election, but the Republican-leaning 12th district was more seriously contested. Simac’s campaign was hobbled by some of her past statements and gaffes on the trail. Steitz fared better as a candidate but also had little experience, a fact Republicans highlighted after their losses.

“The amount of support received by these political newcomers should send a message to all current and future elected officials in this state: if you abandon your constituents and refuse to represent their interests in Madison, there will be significant backlash,” said state party chairman Brad Courtney in a statement.

Democrats have defeated two incumbent state senators in recalls this summer; Republicans have defeated none. While they fell short of their goal — retaking the state senate — Democrats did manage to narrow the GOP majority while protecting their own members.

It’s the culmination of a fight that began this spring, when the Republican-controlled legislature attempted to strip public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights.

Democrats fled the state to avoid voting on the proposal; Republicans passed it without them through a parliamentary manuever. Recalls were attempted on both sides and elections successfully triggered against six Republicans and three Democrats.

Millions of dollars from outside groups poured into what became a national fight over Republican governance and the future of labor unions.

“This is an epic victory in the battle to loosen the Republican stranglehold on Wisconsin state government,” said Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee spokeswoman Carolyn Fiddler in a statement.

But Tuesday night’s races are not as big a deal as they could have been. Last Tuesday, Democrats attempted to recall three or more Republican state senators, which would have given them control of the upper chamber. They failed. While the GOP failed to erase those wins tonight, Republicans still control the senate.

The third Democrat, state Sen. Dave Hansen, faced a recall election in July because there was no primary in the race. He easily defeated a weak challenger after a more serious candidate failed to qualify for the ballot.

Democrats argue that, having come close to flipping three Republican districts, they are well-positioned to recall Walker himself in 2012.

“They declared war, and we picked off two of their members as we watched Scott Walker’s numbers plummet,” said Kelly Steele of the labor coalition We Are Wisconsin.