Six months after union supporters stormed Madison to protest Wisconsin’s collective bargaining bill, Badger State voters are headed to the polls today in six recall elections targeting state Republican senators.The historic wave of recalls is being viewed as a referendum on Republican budget and labour policies. Some political analysts see them as a preview to 2012 election battles.
As a result, these hyper-local elections have attracted unprecedented outside interest, smashing campaign finance records. Nearly 30 outside groups have poured more than $30 million into the campaigns, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a government watchdog.
The stakes are high. Republicans hold a 19-14 majority in the Wisconsin State Senate, so Democrats need to win three of the six races to wrest control of the the upper chamber and gain momentum for a possible 2012 recall of Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
If Democrats do win three seats tonight, however, they could lose the majority again next week when two Democratic state senators face their own recalls. Another Democrat, Green Bay state Sen. Dave Hansen, won the summer’s first recall election with 66% of the vote, compared with 34% for his Republican challenger.
Here is a preview of tonight’s election:
- State Sen. Dan Kapanke (R-La Crosse) is the Democrats’s best shot to pick up a Senate seat. He represents a relatively Democratic district and his challenger, Democratic state Rep. Jennifer Shilling leads in the most recent polls.
- Democrats are also optimistic about picking up a seat from State Sen. Randy Hopper (who, you may remember, lives with his 25-year-old mistress). Hopper (R-Fond du Lac) has gained some ground in his GOP-leaning district, however, so his defeat is not certain.
- The biggest tossup will likely be the recall election against State Sen. Alberta Darling, who represents a swing district in suburban Milwaukee. A big chunk of the outside money has gone into this race, where Milwaukee’s expensive media market has driven up campaign spending.
- State Sen. Luther Olson, R-Ripon, could also face a close race in the 14th District.
- State Sens. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) and Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls) are expected to easily survive tonight’s election. State Supreme Court Justice David Prosser won Cowles’s GOP-leaning district easily, and Harsdorf has benefited from a lot of spending from outside conservative groups.
The recall elections will come down to voter turnout. High voter interest has some Wisconsin officials predicting presidential-level turnouts, but the unique circumstances make it difficult to predict who will show up at the polls.
“Turnout is the whole deal,” Democratic pollster Mark Mellman told Politico. “No one knows for certain and nobody knows whether these polls are remotely accurate because you’ve never had six people up for election in the middle of August in the history of the state.”
Check back with Business Insider Politix at 9 p.m. for live election coverage.