Wisconsin Democrats have fallen just narrowly short of an ambitious goal - the attempt to pick up three state Senate seats through recall elections and take a majority in the chamber. As of early Wednesday morning, with six incumbent Republicans on the ballot, Democrats have defeated two -- but narrowly missed out in two others.
Democrats defeated Republican state Sen. Dan Kapanke, who represented the most Dem-leaning seat of any Republican in the chamber, by a 55%-45% margin. They also won a 51%-49% victory over state Sen. Randy Hopper, whose campaign was also damaged by a messy divorce, and allegations by his estranged wife that he "now lives mostly in Madison" after having an affair.
This would get Democrats from their previous 19-14 minority, following the 2010 Republican wave, to a 17-16 margin. In two more safe Republican districts, incumbents Robert Cowles and Sheila Harsdorf won by margins of 60%-40% and 58%-42%, respectively.
But in the two remaining toss-ups, Democrats have lost close calls. State Sen. Luther Olsen won by a margin of 52%-48%. At time of writing the Associated Press had yet to officially call the District 8 race for incumbent state Sen. Alberta Darling, but other accounts indicated she would emerge the winner.
Also next week are two recalls targeting incumbent Democrats Robert Wirch and Jim Holperin. However, both Wirch and Holperin have significantly out-fundraised their challengers, and are at least favored to hold on -- but in this polarized environment, anything is possible.
Despite heavy turnout, Republicans in red parts of the state turned out as well to defend the policies of a Governor with an approval rating in the mid-30's. It was a gamble but the Dems did come up short. Republicans are jubilant this morning, and the reason they kept 4 of the seats yesterday was money, money, money.
Republican money groups poured cash into the state in order to save Republicans in Wisconsin, and it worked this time. The Club for Growth, Republican legislative boiler room ALEC, the American Federation for Children (run by the sister of Blackwater founder Eric Prince), and the Koch Brothers front group Americans for Prosperity all poured a total of millions into the race, and they bought themselves a number of key wins, none more key than GOP state senator Alberta Darling defending her seat.
And surprise, surprise, Darling's district includes Waukesha County, the same county where in April's state Supreme Court race, county clerk Kathy Nickolaus "found" thousands of votes in favor of conservative Judge David Prosser to give him the win in the recount election. Needless to say, Alberta Darling eked out a solid victory again based almost solely on big numbers in Waukesha County.
So Republicans did what they had to do to win. I'm hoping Democrats will still go after Gov. Scott Walker next year, but you can bet that the right will be ready to save Walker's ass again and will be doing everything they can to buy another election, now that it's legal to do so...and have no problems with a bit of shady action on the side just to make sure they win.
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