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Republican control at stake in Wisconsin recall elections

August 09, 2011|By Michael A. Memoli | Washington Bureau
  • Protesters rally at the Wisconsin Capitol in Madison on June 16.
Protesters rally at the Wisconsin Capitol in Madison on June 16. (M.P. King / Wisconsin State…)

It's decision day in Wisconsin, where the results of a half-dozen recall elections are being closely watched by national observers looking for a measure of voter angst.

Six Republican state senators risk losing their seats in the recall effort, which was spurred by controversial budget reforms undertaken by the state's new GOP governor, Scott Walker. Over the objections of Democrats and their allies in labor, new Republican majorities in the Legislature teamed up with Walker to eliminate most collective bargaining rights for public employees.

If Democrats can win four of the six races on the ballot today, they'll retake control of the state Senate and give a boost to a national party sorely in need of one.

"In size and scope and consequence, the recall movement will represent a historic correction to Republican overreach," Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chairman Mike Tate said in a memo to reporters Monday.

A new poll indicates that they may be within striking distance of doing so. Democratic pollster Public Policy Polling found one Democratic challenger with a double-digit lead over the GOP incumbent; two other challengers were behind but within the poll's margin of error. The survey was commissioned by liberal blog Daily Kos.

However, the races are difficult to handicap, according to an analysis by Craig Gilbert of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Democrats, he wrote Monday, have the advantage of organizational strength from labor and Walker's weak polling numbers. But the districts are Republican-leaning, despite the fact that President Obama narrowly carried all but one of them in 2008.  

"In order to overcome that disadvantage, they have to win the turnout battle, carry independents or both," Gilbert wrote.

More than 50 groups are actively supporting candidates in the recall elections, including national organizations such as the Howard Dean-founded Democracy for America and the AFL-CIO for the Democrats, and Americans for Prosperity and the Club for Growth on the Republican side.

State Democrats say more than 8,000 volunteers made nearly 800,000 voter contacts just last weekend.

Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan campaign-finance watchdog group, said interest groups and candidates have spent more than $30 million on the contests, and some of the groups don't have to disclose their donors.

"In a normal election year, you'll see some independent spending in two or three or four targeted races," he said. "This year, all of the races are targeted races."

Republicans are also mounting recall efforts against incumbent Democrats. One Democratic state senator easily fended off a recall effort against him in July, and two more face voters next week.

According to Wisconsin law, elected officials can only be subject to a recall if they've served one full year of their term. That's why Walker isn't yet facing one, though groups are preparing to launch one in 2012.

Rick Pearson of the Chicago Tribune contributed to this report.

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