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Democrats Fail to Reach Election Goals in Wisconsin Recall, But Make Significant Gains Nevertheless

August 10, 2011

Democrats failed Tuesday in their effort to gain control of the Wisconsin State Senate as Republican incumbents won four of six recall elections.

And, while many progressives, labor unions and Democrats are feeling glum because they were not fully successful in gaining retribution against six GOP allies of Gov. Scott Walker, who earlier this year voted to end collective bargaining rights for many public sector workers, not all was lost.

The fact is that recalling two out of the six GOP State Senators is not chopped liver and should be celebrated even in lieu of not winning the three seats needed to achieve a Democratic majority in the State Senate.

Democrat Jennifer Shilling defeated Republican State Senator Dan Kapanke and Democrat Jessica King edged out Republican Randy Hopper.

The fact is all six Senate districts are heavily Republican. The past support for these GOP Senators was significant given they withstood the 2008 election wave where these Senators were elected even though President Obama carried all these districts.

In addition, spending on all nine Wisconsin recall elections had reached $35 million, most of it from outside special interest groups like the right-wing billionaire Koch brothers and most of it going to the Republican legislators.

If there was any mistake made maybe it was raising people’s expectations too high. Privately, many recall leaders believed that winning more then two seats would be a tall, but not impossible task to achieve.

Nevertheless, Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, said voters sent a message that there is a growing movement to reclaim the middle class.

“Let’s be clear, anyway you slice it, this is an unprecedented victory,” he said.


It should also be noted that Democrats were able to narrow the Republican majority in the Senate, from a 19 to 14 margin to a thin 17 to 16 margin.

The Nation’s John Nichols points out, “That one-vote GOP majority becomes significant from an organizational and policy standpoint. That’s because one Republican senator, Dale Schultz, voted against the governor’s assault on collective bargaining —which he referred to as “colossal overreach.” Schultz has been highly critical of the governor in recent weeks, and the extent to which he decided to work with the Democrats could tip the balance on labor, education and public services issues where the moderate Schultz has differed with his fellow Republicans.”

More importantly, it’s unlikely that Tuesday’s results will stamp out Democratic enthusiasm for recalling Walker when he becomes eligible in January. Additionally, next year will bring a new round of lawmakers who weren’t eligible for recall this year.

Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Mike Tate said, “On Tuesday night, Wisconsin spoke loud and clear with the recall of two entrenched Republicans. This is an accomplishment of historic proportions. The fact of the matter remains, that, fighting on Republican turf, we have begun the work of stopping the Scott Walker agenda.”


While Wisconsin was the election focus of the nation, there were some other really important election victories in other parts of the country last night.

Democrat Bob Perry has won a special election to fill a vacant New Hampshire House seat. The seat was vacated after a Republican resigned in March.

In two other recalls outside of Wisconsin, Democratic mayor of Omaha, Nebraska survived recall, while the Republican mayor of Miami-Dade county, Florida was ousted.

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