MADISON, Wisc. (CN) – Republicans kept control of the state Senate Tuesday, winning four of six recall elections; loss of one more seat would have handed the chamber to the Democrats and derailed the GOP war on public employee unions.
Republicans held a 19-14 advantage in the state Senate on Tuesday morning; it has been reduced to 17-16.
Democratic Sen. Dave Hansen survived the first recall election last week. Two other Democratic incumbents face elections on Aug. 16.
The recalls were spurred by Republican Gov. Scott Walker’ so-called Budget Repair Bill, which makes it illegal for public employees to collectively bargain for anything but wages, and imposes other onerous conditions on unions.
Many of Democrats’ ads during the recall campaign, however, did not mention unions or collective bargaining. They focused on education cuts, tax breaks for the wealthy and called it a referendum on Republican rule.
Some Wisconsin media saw the recall races as a preview of a plan to recall Walker next year, and even of the 2012 elections.
All six Senate seats were considered swing districts, having voted for Walker in 2010 but for President Obama in 2008.
With a Republican state Supreme Court justice retaining his seat after a surprisingly strong challenge this year, the Republicans retain control of all three branches of Wisconsin government.
Groups from across the country dumped more than $35 million into the recalls, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks spending.
Spending on the 2010 governor’s race came to just $37.4 million.
In Tuesday’s most expensive race, state Sen. Alberta Darling, R-Shorewood, defeated Assemblywoman Sandy Pasch. It was the most expensive state Senate race in Wisconsin history and the one Democrats called the “crown jewel” in their effort to take back the Senate. Darling, who was the highest-ranking Republican facing recall, held on to her seat with 54 percent of the vote.
The Journal-Sentinel newspaper reported that turnout in the six districts rivaled that of the 2010 governor race.
The two incumbent Republicans who lost were Dan Kapanke and Rand Hopper.
Kapanke, of La Crosse, was knocked off by Assemblywoman Jennifer Shilling who took 55 percent of the vote. Turnout in that district was 45 percent, compared to 47 percent in the 2010 governor’s race.
Hopper, of Fond du Lac, was ousted by Oshkosh Deputy Mayor Jessica King, who lost to Hopper by 163 votes in the 2008 general election. King won this time by 1,251 votes. That district had 41 percent turnout, compared to 45 percent in the 2010 for governor’ race.
Incumbent Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, held off teachers’ union official Shelly Moore, D-Hudson, taking 58 percent of the vote. More people voted in the Tuesday recall – 64,349, or 44 percent turnout – than the 62,974 votes from the district in November 2010.
Incumbent Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, edged out Assemblyman Fred Clark by just over 2,000 votes. Their race saw 39 percent turnout, compared to 45 percent in the 2010 governor’s race.
Incumbent Robert Cowles, R-Allouez, trounced Nancy Nusbaum, taking 60 percent of the vote. Turnout was low, at around 34 percent. That race attracted less spending and attention than the others and was considered the least competitive of the six.
After the results were announced this morning (Wednesday), Democrats tried to call it some sort of victory.
“On Tuesday night, Wisconsin spoke loud and clear with the recall of two entrenched Republicans. This is an accomplishment of historic proportions,” said Mike Tate, chairman of the state Democratic Party. “We went on their turf and we won on Republican turf. We will not stop, we will not until we recall (Gov.) Scott Walker.”