In a brazen attempt to oust Republican incumbents in Tuesday’s Wisconsin recall elections, four of the six GOP Senators on the ballot withstood a heavy challenge from union backed activists to maintain Republican control of the state senate. The four wins were a tremendous victory for Gov. Scott Walker and a huge setback for organized labor.
Prior to the recall elections, Republicans held a 19-14 majority in the Senate and still maintain a 17-16 majority after Tuesday’s election returns. However, the GOP could win back additional seats in next week’s Democratic recall elections.
“I think it’s a huge victory for us,” John Hogan, director of the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Voters gave us a mandate last fall…They backed us again [Tuesday]. Voters told us loud and clear, ‘Stay the course. Things are working.’”
The recall effort was prompted in large part to newly elected Governor Walker’s proposals that placed limitations on public union bargaining rights for most state workers. In what many considered an unusual and cowardly move, most of the Democrat Senators vacated their seats in the chamber and left the state in protest of the governor’s proposals.
“Last November, the voters sent a message that they wanted fiscal responsibility and a focus on jobs,” Walker said in a statement. “In our first months in office we balanced a $3.6 billion deficit and our state created 39,000 new jobs. It’s clear the voters also want us to work together to grow jobs and improve our state."
The recall elections were not simply about unions and business; it was clearly seen as a referendum on the recent infusion of Tea Party Republicans that swept lawmakers into state legislatures and Congress in 2010. At a time of deficit spending in Washington and with debates raging on how deep the government should cut entitlement programs, the Wisconsin elections were being watched closely as a gauge of public sentiment on fiscal issues.
In what was collectively one of the most expensive elections in history, it is estimated that candidates and special interest groups will have spent close to $40 million when final tallies are made. To put it into perspective, that’s an average of over $6.5 million per senate seat – a staggering amount for these types of races.
A massive “get out the vote” (GOTV) effort was mobilized by both sides with expensive television and radio ads flooding the airwaves in all six districts.
A poll commissioned by Public Policy Polling and paid for by the liberal group, Daily Kos, showed Republicans with the pre-election edge but predicted three races would be extremely close. They were right on both accounts.
However, Democrats and their cohorts in the labor movement were successful in defeating two Republican incumbents in senate districts 32 and 18.
Wisconsin House Democrat, Rep. Jennifer Shilling defeated incumbent Republican Sen. Dan Kapanke from La Crosse and Democrat challenger and former Oshkosh Mayor Jessica King ousted first-term incumbent Republican Sen. Randy Hopper.
Still to be decided are the races of two senate Democrat incumbents, Bob Wirch or Pleasant Prairie and Jim Holperin from Conover. Both face Republican challengers in their recall elections.
From a historical perspective, only 20 attempts have been made to oust sitting lawmakers from office since 1913 and only 13 had been successful. That number is now 15.