While Democratic challengers picked up two Senate seats Tuesday night to win the battle, they couldn’t secure all three seats to win the war.
Four recalled Republicans secured wins Tuesday evening, just enough to block a shift of the Senate floor control to the Democrats.
“The political consequence is that they have tried to take control of the Senate and they failed,” said Charles Franklin, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin.
“The Senate will stay in Republican hands. The Democrat’s ability to block legislation remains just about a limp as it did yesterday.”
The Senate control wasn't known until the results emerged for the final election to be counted: the 8th Senate recall race between incumbent Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and challenger Rep. Sandy Pasch (D-Whitefish Bay). Political observers from around the world watched from the edge of their seats as the results slowly trickled in.
Finally, at 12:30 Wednesday morning, Darling announced her victory over Pasch.
“There were so many guns pointed at my back because I helped lead the fight to get the state back on track,” Darling told supporters at her victory party in Thiensville.
Darling joined three other Republican senators who also fought off recall challenges around the state, including Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon), Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Allouez) and Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls). Final, unofficial totals compiled by the Associated Press showed Darling collected 39,471 votes, or 54 percent, and Pasch tallied 34,096 votes, or 46 percent, on election night.
Andrew Davis, Friends of Alberta Darling’s campaign manager, said some Democrats were overly confident in winning the recall elections, and that may have been their downfall. However, it doesn’t mean next week’s remaining elections are pointless.
“Those were races that people wrote off early, and then in the end, thought there was a chance that we still hold them,” Davis said. “For that much money we spent on those two senate seats, the Dems can be proud of winning those two races. This showed that their whole recall effort has failed, they may have picked up seats, but those are small victories for them.”
Davis said voters voiced their concerns very clearly Tuesday.
“We heard the message loud and clear,” Davis said. “I don’t know how many times they have to speak here in Wisconsin and say how they want things to be done in Madison, and how they want government to work for them.”
Next week, two recalled Democrats will face off Tuesday against challenging Republicans. While some voters may feel these races do not have as strong an impact when only two seats were gained last night, John McAdams, an associate professor of political science at Marquette University, said it’s not over yet.
“In principal, having a two- or three-vote majority in any legislative assembly is better than having a one vote majority because there are always moderating Republicans,” McAdams said.
Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) has voiced concerns about Gov. Scott Walker’s agenda, noted Barry Burden, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin.
Schultz may give Democrats some more push in the Senate, he said.
“Schultz will definitely get attention if the Republicans have a mere one seat advantage,” Burden said. “He has been known to break with Gov. Walker. Politically, his district looks a lot like Kapanke's. Seeing his colleague defeated in a recall might give him additional motivation to work with the Democrats.”
Mike Tate, chair for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said the results of Tuesday’s elections demonstrate vulnerability for another Republican to get recalled — Gov. Scott Walker.
“Tuesday’s historic Wisconsin recall elections showed just how vulnerable Republicans are in the November 2012 elections — and how vulnerable Gov. Walker is to a recall election himself,” Tate wrote in a press release.
“Barely scraping by on their own turf is an incredible sign of weakness for Gov. Walker and Republicans,” Tate wrote. “The historic gains made tonight to restore balance and accountability to our state, and restore Wisconsin values, will continue when the entire state weighs in on the November 2012 elections — and with the recall of Scott Walker himself.”
Not a sweeping state-wide approval on Walker's agenda, experts say
Many voters saw the recall elections as a referendum on Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011-'13 budget and budget repair bill, which eliminated most collective bargaining rights for public workers.
Recalls against the six Republican senators were sparked by outrage of the repair bill and resulted in signature petitions being gathered.
Political experts say, however, Tuesday night's election results aren't a state-wide endorsement of Walker's agenda.
“There are still a lot of Democratic trending districts in the state and two Republican senators were unseated," Franklin said.
Franklin said Pasch lost the 8th Senate District race because it’s a Republican-leaning district.
“She was running against a Republican in a Republican district,” Burden said. “It was a uphill battle from the beginning.”
Voter turnout throughout the district was very strong, shattering the turnout for the Supreme Court race — with both sides increasing its voter crowd.
Voting in the April Supreme Court race between incumbent Justice David Prosser and Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg was a good parallel to the way the 8th Senate District voted Tuesday night, Franklin said.
He said there was only a half-percent change in the way the votes leaned in the Darling/Pasch race compared to the Kloppenburg/Prosser race.
“That is sort of a stunning result,” Franklin said.
McAdams said calling it a statewide endorsement is too strong and it should just be labeled a win for the Republicans.
“This is the second referendum we’ve had on Walker’s policies," McAdams. "The Republicans have won narrowly in both cases, so Republicans can’t say our policies have been wildly and overwhelmingly endorsed. On the other hand, they’ve won, but narrowly.”