Post updated: 1:30AM
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.
Democrats were already crying foul in the Darling race, due to late returns in heavily Republican Waukesha County — the same place where, during the April state Supreme Court race, the declared discovery of an election night computer error gave several thousand votes and a margin of victory to conservative Justice David Prosser.
In a press release late Tuesday night, state Dem chair Mike Tate was already alleging fraud on the part of Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus:
“The race to determine control of the Wisconsin Senate has fallen in the hands of the Waukesha County clerk, who has already distinguished herself as incompetent, if not worse. She is once more tampering with the results of a consequential election and in the next hours we will determine our next course of action. For now, Wisconsin should know that a dark cloud hangs over these important results.”
It remains to be seen whether any action will result from such a declaration.
All six of these districts were, on paper, serious uphill climbs for Democrats. The incumbents were last elected in 2008, winning their districts even in the middle of the huge Democratic wave that year.
After this near-miss, the next question becomes: How will this result impact the Democrats’ declared intentions to recall Gov. Scott Walker some time next year? Will the Dems’ grassroots energy flatten out — or can it keep going, towards the lofty goal of collecting over half a million signatures, plus a buffer, to trigger a recall election?
Wisconsin State Dem chair Mike Tate has issued a statement clarifying his earlier position on the vote count in Waukesha, saying Dems will not pursue questions of irregularities.
On Tuesday night, Wisconsin spoke loud and clear with the recall of two entrenched Republicans. This is an accomplishment of historic proportions that I do not wish to be overshadowed by statements regarding results in the 8th Senate District. Though we believe that Sandy Pasch was able to battle Alberta Darling to a virtual tie, on her turf, we will not pursue questions of irregularities. Those heat-of-the-moment statements came in light of the uncertainties that arose from a recent election, known too well.