Capitol Police officers drag away a protester outside of the state Senate at the state Capitol in Madison, Wis., Thursday evening, June 16, 2011. (AP Photo/Wisconsin State Journal, M.P. King) (Michael P. King/AP)

Democratic primaries are being held today to take on all six Republican state senators facing recalls, and the general elections in those races are on August 9th. Three Democratic state senators face recalls; those elections will be held on July 19th and August 16th.

Only one Democrat elected to run against each of the six Republicans. But the state Republican party put forward a “Democratic”candidate in each race, in order to force primaries and give Republican incumbents more time to campaign. Democrats refer to these contenders as “fake” candidates; Republicans prefer “protest” candidates.

All of these candidates are open about their Republican backgrounds; none of them are trying to confuse or trick voters into choosing the wrong Democrat. But Wisconsin has open primaries, and some of these candidates are encouraging Republican turnout. They hope to send their own message by succeeding or at least garnering some significant share of votes. That message? Voters don’t want the recalls.

The votes today in Wisconsin will be looked to by both national parties as an early indication of the political climate in what is widely considered to be a swing state in 2012.

If Democrats are ultimately able to turn over the three seats they would need to re-take control of the state Senate, it would be widely interpreted as a significant rebuke to Walker and the national Republicans who backed him.

On the other hand, a failure by Democrats to win the state Senate majority would be touted by Republicans as evidence that the protests at the state capitol earlier this year were orchestrated by national labor groups and didn’t have the grassroots support they appeared to enjoy.

In Tuesday’s primaries the focus is more narrow, however, with both sides wondering whether any of these protest candidates might score an upset.

The state Democratic Party insists it’s not overly concerned with the protest candidate primaries.

“We are effectively using this as a dry run for our regular get-out-the-vote activities,” said party spokeswoman Gillian Morris. “We’ve seen huge amounts of activism on the ground that has come forth after seeing the dirty tricks of the Republican Party.”

Some of the protest candidates though seem to be quite optimistic about their chances — although few people outside of their campaigns expect them to win.

“I have a huge intention of winning,” said Issac Weix of Menomonie, who ran unsuccessfully for state assembly as a Republican last year. “The grassroots support for what I’m doing in this district has been overwhelming.”

Weix is hoping to knock out English teacher Shelly Moore (D) before the general election against state Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R). The GOP has been calling and emailing their supporters and encouraging them to vote. Weix is the only “protest” Democrat to raise any money beyond the $750 given each candidate by the state party. Democrats have cried foul, but Weix doesn’t see a problem: “If you can’t win the primary you’re not going to win the general.”

Otto Junkerman of Green Bay, a Korean war veteran and former Republican state assemblyman running against former Brown County Executive Nancy Nusbaum (D) in the primary to take on state Sen. Robert Cowles (R) said that party affiliation doesn’t mean “diddly”.

In the race to take on state Sen. Randy Hopper (R), Republican supporters distributed flyers encouraging votes for retiree John Buckstaff over Deputy Oshkosh Mayor Jessica King (D). Buckstaff told a local television station that “Republicans next Tuesday can vote for me if they choose to, and I would certainly appreciate their vote. We have open primaries in this state, and that would be greatly appreciated and we’d probably send a good message to the [Democrats].”

Other local Republicans are more skeptical and hands-off about the protest candidates. La Crosse GOP Chairman Bill Feehan called it “extremely unlikely” that protest Democrat James Smith will beat state Rep. Jennifer Schilling (D) in the primary for state Sen. Dan Kapanke’s seat. Kapanke is one of the most vulnerable Republicans facing a recall election.

Protest candidates in the Democratic primaries for the right to challenge state Sens. Alberta Darling (R)and Luther Olsen (R) have done no campaigning.

Polls close at 8 p.m central time. Stay tuned to the Fix for results.