More Wisconsin Drama: August Recall Elections

Jake Laperruque


This Tuesday, Wisconsin held recall elections for six Republican Senators pulled back to the ballot box in the aftermath of Governor Scott Walker’s controversial anti-union policies.  With the results flying largely under the radar in the media (Politico headlined the story for roughly an hour before moving to their 9,736th piece about TPaw’s campaign falling apart), here are a few important points to take from the election:


The Democrats knocked out two of the six GOP incumbents recalled for election.  This lets Wisconsin Republicans keep control of the Senate, now by a razor thin margin of 17-16.  However, one of those 17 Republicans is moderate Dale Schultz, who voted against Walker’s bill stripping union’s of collective bargaining rights, and has been a vocal critic of the Governor’s agenda.  Republicans still control the State Senate, but Governor Walker’s ability to push his policies is effectively over.

Or is at least delayed until the breakdown shifts again.  Next week, Wisconsin voters will go to the polls yet again, this time for a recall vote of two Democratic State Senators. If the Republican challengers win, their victory will undo Tuesday’s efforts.

Even if Democrats take control of the legislature, however, they’ll be unable to repeal Governor Walker’s policies while he’s still in office.  That repudiation can only occur if Democrats boot the governor from office in a 2012 recall election that seems almost certain to occur.  These individual recalls make the task of taking back the legislature easier and build momentum for a gubernatorial campaign (and I’ve got someone in mind who would be a damn good challenger), but the future of Walker’s agenda will not be decided until his own reelection occurs.


The recall’s split outcome immediately led in-state political operatives and partisan bloggers across the country to start declaring victory—from both sides of the political aisle  The less-than-miraculous spin goes something like this:

Dems:  We took two Republican seats, so we win!

GOP:  We won 4 of the 6 elections, so we win!

To figure out who really has an edge politically, I prefer to look at voting trends.  It’s not as simple as counting the number of seats you won, but it tends to produce more insightful results.

District 2008 Top Ballot Election (Obama/McCain) 2011 August Recall Election
District 2 52 46 40 60
District 8 51 47 46 54
District 10 50 48 42 58
District 14 52 47 48 52
District 18 51 47 51 49
District 32 61 38 55 45

These are not good numbers for Democrats.  All six races broke better for the GOP this week than in 2008.  Turnout in these recall races was incredibly high, meaning the breakdown of turnout is probably similar to the ’08 election.  The significant movement toward the GOP reflects that Democrats still face an uphill battle in combating the anti-union policies of governor’s such as Walker, and making gains overall in 2012.


Finally, we have the issue of potential tampering.  Late into the tallying of the last race, Wisconsin Democratic Party Communications Director leveled this charge: (video).

If County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus sounds familiar, it’s because she was the center of another voter tampering scandal earlier this year.  The Wisconsin Democratic Party has insisted it will not be challenging the results, but with Nickolaus’s activities becoming a perpetual problem, it might be wise to prepare for meddling before the next statewide contest.

Image by Dave Hoefler

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