The Month of Recallmania Begins in Wisconsin
1:03 PM, Jul 12, 2011 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
Another campaign in the battle for Wisconsin is getting under way today. Republicans won the legislative struggle in March, and then narrowly won the judicial election in April that ensured their collective bargaining reform would not be struck down by liberal judges.
The Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin.
But now the state senate is up for grabs. And the campaign begins today with six Democratic primary contests in Republican-held state senate districts. Each primary is a race between the Democratic party's preferred candidate and a "fake" or "protest" candidate put up by the Republican party.
What did Republicans gain by running candidates in Democratic primaries? An extra month of campaigning and, more importantly, legislating. Without a primary challenge, today would have been general election day, which means Republicans could have lost the senate and the chance to pass their redistricting plan and other legislation they haven't gotten to quite yet.
No one expects a "protest" candidate to upset a Democrat in any of the primaries, and all six "real" Democrats will advance to August 9 recall elections against Republicans.
There are also three Democratic incumbents facing recall elections. Dave Hansen, a Democratic senator from the Green Bay area, will face a general election next Tuesday, July 19 because only one Republican candidate qualified for the ballot (the GOP's preferred candidate fell a few signatures short of the 400 needed to get on the ballot). There are primaries in the two other Democratic districts on July 19, which means that the general election will be August 16 for those two Democratic senators. (The elections are being held on different days because recall petitions against the Democrats were certified later than petitions against Republicans).
Democrats need to make a net gain of three seats to take control of the senate. Sean Trende had a good district-by-district rundown here and here earlier this year. Trende highlighted the three most vulnerable GOP districts in the wake of conservative David Prosser's victory in the state supreme court election:
So it's entirely possible that Republicans could lose three seats--and control of the Senate--on August 9. But they could come back and win a Democratic seat on August 16 to regain control the senate. Here's Trende's on of the GOP's top target, Jim Holperin:
What happens if Democrats take control of the state senate? Wisconsin will likely face legislative gridlock, much as we've seen in Washington, D.C. following the GOP capture of the House of Representatives. But Governor Scott Walker's collective bargaining reform won't go anywhere.
So, in terms of keeping the law on the books, the judicial election this spring was much more important than the senate recall elections. But a takeover of the senate would be very significant. It would certainly embolden Democrats and unions. It would make a run for governor more appealing to Russ Feingold, the Democratic party's strongest candidate.
The earliest Walker may face a recall is this coming January, a year after he took office and six months after his collective bargaining reform took effect and began to yield positive and relatively painless results for Wisconsin taxpayers and school districts.