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Democrats gained two state Senate seats in Wisconsin last night, falling short of the three wins needed to gain control of the state’s upper chamber.Vote counting went into the early hours of this morning, as Democrats held out hope that they might gain a third victory in the 8th District, a suburban Milwaukee battleground.
Ultimately, the Republican incumbent, state Sen. Alberta Darling, pulled ahead of her Democratic challenger, state Rep. Sandy Pasch, by about 5,000 votes.
State Democrats said they will not challenge the vote count.
Voter turnout was high for the recalls, although not as high as election officials and news reports initially predicted. Overall, about 43% of eligible voters came out for the recalls, compared to about 50% turnout in last year’s gubernatorial election.
Still, that’s a surprising number of voters for a special summer election, and significantly higher than turnout for the highly publicized April 2011 State Supreme Court special election. In the 10th district, yesterday’s turnout was actually higher than 2010 levels.
Unsurprisingly, the highest turnout rate — 57% — was in the 8th District, the most highly contested and heavily funded of recall campaign. The lowest turnout — 34% —was in the 2nd District, where Republican state Sen. Robert Cowles sailed easily past his Democratic challenger.
The recalls, widely seen as a referendum of Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s collective bargaining and budget reforms, attracted outsize national attention. The campaigns spent a combined total of about $35 million, only $5.1 million of which was spent by the candidates themselves, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a government watchdog that tracks campaign spending.
Outside interest groups — including the Tea Party Express, Americans for Prosperity, Howard Dean’s Democracy of America, and public-sector unions — spent about $30 million on the campaigns, with contributions split relatively evenly between Republican and Democratic candidates.
Last night’s results means that Walker’s collective bargaining bill — the catalyst behind the madness in Madison — and other Republican austerity measures will stand. There are still two more recall elections to go in Wisconsin, against state Sen. Democrats next week, but control of the state Senate no longer hangs in the balance.