If you’re thinking the Iowa Straw Polls this weekend are the kick-off to next year’s election cycle, then think again. Today’s Wisconsin recall elections are where the real action is.
Elections held during non-traditional voting periods rarely garner much attention and usually result in a small percentage of the voters casting their ballots. But in Wisconsin this year absentee ballots are breaking records and, by the time it's over today, nearly $40 million will be spent in an all out test of union political force versus the Tea Party that has politicos nationwide biting their nails.
There are six recall elections on Tuesday’s ballot and if three are successful, it will tilt the balance of power in the state senate toward the Democratic Party and send Democrats a message nationwide that voter turnout can turn the tide in 2012.
That’s what Democrats are hoping for anyway. Of the six races on the ballot today, three are leaning Republican, one is leaning Democratic and two appear to be toss-ups.
How did this all begin? Earlier this year, Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker introduced and passed anti-public-union legislation – limiting their ability to collectively bargain with state governments. Nationwide, union supporters pushed back. Thousands of protesters, many from out of state, descended upon the dairy state’s capital city of Madison and lodged massive demonstrations, bringing with them cameras, satellite trucks and even Obama White House political organizers to make the issue a national referendum on union solidarity.
As permitted by the Wisconsin constitution, angry, pro-union voters petitioned to recall lawmakers on both sides of the aisle – but mainly Republicans – who voted for the legislation.
These elections are anything but local. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign spending in the state, is reporting that total spending in the recall election reached $33 million with dollars from outside the state accounting for approximately $28 million of the total. By the time all spending is accounted for the total amount could reach $40 million.
Michael Buelow, Research Director for The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, compared spending in Tuesday’s vote to recent elections.
“In the 2010 election cycle, 99 state house members and 17 senators were on the ballot. Total spending by candidates and all outside groups for the 116 races totaled a little more than $17 million,” Buelow told The Christian Post. “Spending by outside groups and candidates will more than double what was spent in 2010 and will hold the record for total spending any election to day.”
To put the spending into perspective, that averages over $6.5 million per election – for a state legislative seat.
“We’re seeing groups on the left and on the right spending about the same," Buelow added.
We Are Wisconsin, a left leaning union group and right-leaning Club for Growth Wisconsin, will spend approximately $10 million each.
In senate district 32, Democrat Jennifer Shilling seems to have an advantage over Republican incumbent Sen. Dan Kapanke. In senate district 18, Democrat challenger Jessica King is neck-in-neck with Republican incumbent Sen. Randy Hopper, according to the Daily KOS, a left-leaning, Democratic blog.
Turnout is expected to be a major factor since absentee voting was high. “We were shocked at the [absentee] turnout,” Whitefish Bay Clerk Jennifer Armerell told TMJ 4 News. “We had to call in two poll workers to come in and help during absentee voting because it was so busy.”
In Milwaukee, 10 percent of voters in 10 Milwaukee wards have already voted.
The elections will most likely provide an early battleground contest between the newer Tea Party movement and the older union machine that has been in place for decades.
Two Democrats face their own recall elections next week.