Democrats are targeting six Republican state senators this summer with recall elections over a vote to end public employees’ collective bargaining rights earlier this year that drew national attention to the state. Republicans are targeting three Democrats for fleeing the state for Illinois during that protracted legislative battle.
Democrats need to net three seats in this summer’s elections to win back control of the state Senate, a result that would be widely cast as a rebuke to first term Gov. Scott Walker (R).
On Monday, Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board voted unanimously to keep state Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) off the ballot in a recall election against state Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay), saying that the GOP lawmaker fell short of the 400 valid signatures required to qualify.
Nygren has said that he will fight the decision. If he appeals in court, a judge could order the Government Accountability Board to delay the election. Board spokesman Reid Magney says that “right now were proceeding as if it’s on.”
Nygren was considered the strongest challenger to take on Hansen, a vulnerable Democrat whose district went for both Walker in 2010 and President Bush in 2004. Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgeral d was planning to attend a fundraiser for Nygren later this week.
Now Hansen will face David VanderLeest, (R) a weaker opponent with a long court record. He’s been accused of domestic and child abuse by his ex-wife, and been taken to court for code violations in the buildings he owns. When he filed his candidacy, VanderLeest made the kind of statement that’s never good for a candidate: “I have made mistakes in my past... Any scrutiny of court records or filings will show that my ex-wife recanted all statements ever made against me in any courtroom in Wisconsin.”
It also means the general election for Hansen will take place on July 19th, about a month before the other recall contests. In each race, the general elections were scheduled for July in the absence of primaries; if there are multiple candidates, the primary is in July and the general in August.
Democrats will likely be able use some of the money they planned to spend on the Hansen race elsewhere, although Wisconsin Democratic Party spokeswoman Gillian Morris cautioned that some of those funds will need to go towards voter education due to the strange circumstances of the contest.
“We’re going to have to ramp up our ‘get out the vote’ efforts and letting voters know that they need to vote, since the schedule of this election has changed multiple times,” she said. “It’s going to be a lot of voter education and making sure folks know whats going on.”
There will be GOP primaries on July 19th to challenge two other Democrats, Sens. Jim Holperin (D-Conover) and Robert Wirch (D-Pleasant Plains). They will face general elections on August 16th.
Primaries to take on the six targeted Republicans will be held on July 12th. While only one Democrat plans to run against each Republican, the GOP put forward their own “protest” candidates to run in Democratic primaries — with the express goal of pushing the general elections back to August 9th.
There is some speculation that, given low turnout and Wisconsin’s open primaries system, some of these candidates could wind up winning the primaries — saving GOP incumbents from real fights in August.
Republicans are downplaying that possibility, saying they don’t intend to contest these primaries. They just want to delay the election.
“We haven’t been putting any resources into the campaigns at all,” said Wisconsin Republican Party spokeswoman Kelly McCollum. “The candidates themselves have not been out there campaigning. The purpose of these protest candidates is certainly not to throw off the elections in any way or confuse voters.”
These stand-in protest candidates have not prepared for the possibility that they will win, McCollum says, because it is “outside of the realm of possibility.”
At the same time, one protest candidate is trying to get his Democratic primary opponent to give up her candidacy over campaign-related emails she is accused of writing on a school account.
But Democrats agree that the protest candidates won’t be much of a threat. So the Nygren decision, if it stands, is a small boost for them in a fight where every seat will count.