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GOP touts 4-2 split in Wisconsin recall elections as affirmation of Walker agenda

A voter fills out her ballot at a Glendale polling place on Tuesday.
REUTERS/Darren Hauck
A voter fills out her ballot at a Glendale polling place on Tuesday.

Just about everyone was claiming victory over the results of Wisconsin’s recall elections.

But the proclamations of conservative voices had a little more gusto because four of the six Republican state senators facing recall won their elections on Tuesday. That means Republicans still control all branches of Wisconsin government, although the margin in the Senate is now just one vote.

That 17-16 divide is likely to hold even after next-week’s two recall elections. The two Democratic incumbents facing recall are favored to hold onto their seats.

The hotly contested recall races were being watched far beyond Wisconsin by many who considered the contests some sort of indicator of the direction the country is moving on the political spectrum.

Lots of emotional investments in elections
From sugar beet workers in the Red River Valley to former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, emotional investments were being made in Wisconsin politics.

Pawlenty has said he “stands with” the policies of conservative Gov. Scott Walker, whose legislative agenda spurred the unprecedented recall movement.

Gov. Scott Walker
REUTERS/Darren Hauck
Gov. Scott Walker

Mark Froemke, a labor leader in the American Crystal Sugar dispute that has left workers locked out, last week said he hoped that the Wisconsin political climate would show that U.S. workers are prepared to rally together.

National pundits have been writing that the Wisconsin races might indicate the strength, or weakness, of President Obama. Wisconsin, after all, could be one of those swing states in 2012.

And because so many were watching — because so many felt that these races had far grander implications than simple, usually obscure local Senate races — money poured into the Badger State. At last count, more than $35 million had been spent on these races, compared with $19.3 million in ALL 115 legislative races a year ago.

So what does the 4-2 split mean?

Not surprisingly, Republican leaders were claiming the victories show that the conservative agenda of Walker has support, despite the huge protests seen at the state Capitol last winter.

“I think it’s a huge victory for us,” John Hogan, director of the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, told reporters late last night. “Voters gave us a mandate last fall. They backed us again. Voter told us loud and clear, ‘Stay the course. Things are working.’ ”

Certainly, in the race closest to Minnesota homes, voters were saying “stay the course.”

Incumbent Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls crushed Democratic challenger Shelly Moore, gaining 58 percent of the vote. The turnout for this race proved to be greater than the turnout for the governor’s race a few months earlier.

‘Stay the course’ theme
In a statement, Harsdorf echoed Hogan’s “stay the course” theme.

“We are beginning to see the budget repairs working,” Harsdorf said. “Wisconsin is going down the right path again.”

And that theme also was being repeated by Minnesota GOP Chairman Tony Sutton.

Sen. Sheila Harsdorf
Sen. Sheila Harsdorf

“Tonight’s election results are vindication that Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators have the support of the people of Wisconsin when it comes to making tough decisions to reduce the cost, size and scope of state government,” Sutton said in a statement. “Like our Minnesota Republican legislators, Wisconsin Republicans are not just talking the talk of structural reform of state government, they’re walking the walk.”

Minnesota College Republicans, who did volunteer work for Harsdorf, were claiming victory for their candidate — and Walker. And taking some shots at unions, which had invested heavily in all of the races.

“This signals a rejection of the unions’ attempt to hijack our political process and reverse Scott Walker’s bold agenda of reform that is saving school districts and counties around the state millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs,” said Ryan Lyk, president of the College Republicans in a statement.

Minnesota College Republicans even dusted off a popular President Nixon-era phrase in talking about the victory: “the silent majority.”

“We were proud to help Sen. Harsdorf defend her seat. . . .She stands for the silent majority of Wisconsinites.”

Democrats had to work a little harder to find a positive spin in the outcomes. But Mike Tate, chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, did give it a try.

“We went on their turf and we won on Republican turf,” said Tate after the votes were counted. “We will not stop, we will not rest until we recall Scott Walker.”

Minnesota’s DFLers, who had worked, in conjunction with Minnesota unions, especially in the Harsdorf-Moore race, were a little more subdued.

Kristine Sosanie, spokeswoman for the party, bluntly said this morning that the results were “disappointing.”

The message for Minnesota DFLers?

“It underscores that we’re going to be united, work hard and take back the Legislature in traditional ways in 2012,” she said.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 08/10/2011 - 10:26 am.

    Watching the MSNBC followers at the WI State Capital deflate before your eyes – Priceless!!

  2. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 08/10/2011 - 10:51 am.

    It’s not a bad result. Control of the senate where Republicans have both the house and the governorship means little. And it’s tough for Democrats to win special election, and it’s tough for everyone to beat incumbents. If the Democratic Party can win a third of the Republican seats as they did last night, in the next general election, I will not be unhappy.

  3. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 08/10/2011 - 11:22 am.

    Disappointing for sure. Our states and our country are already under a single party, the party of money. These votes to me don’t say “victory” as much as “we give up.” That’s hardly cause for celebration.

  4. Submitted by Tim Walker on 08/10/2011 - 11:52 am.

    The people of Wisconsin have spoken.

    I hope they enjoy their higher property taxes and their gutted schools.

    But at least the brown-skinned folks won’t be getting any Wisconsin tax dollars!

    I make that last remark based on the race-baiting pro-Harsdorf TV ads that claimed that Moore wanted to give free health care to illegal immigrants.

    What a disgusting way to win an election.

    I guess that also means that another Nixon-era tactic was revived: The racist Southern Strategy.

  5. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 08/10/2011 - 12:44 pm.

    Its tough to put a positive spin on the night for the Democrats because the difference between winning two and three seats is so huge. There is no denying that the Democrats fell short.

    That being said, these were Republican incumbents, all of whom were elected as Republicans in the big Democratic year of 2008. Obama carried the state by double digits, but these districts still elected Republicans. Last night the Democrats won two of those seats and came close in two others. Based on the vote totals in those districts, if Scott Walker had been on the ballot last night and the entire state was voting and not just Republican districts, Walker would have been recalled. A lot of the “gusto” is just furious spinning by the Walker people because they know that there is a good chance he gets recalled next year.

  6. Submitted by Lora Jones on 08/10/2011 - 12:49 pm.

    Per Nate Silver: “Walker carried the six districts on Tuesday’s recall ballot by an average of 13 percentage points in 2010 — better than his statewide margin of 6 percentage points. If Democrats were to split the vote across these districts about evenly, that would be a reasonably troubling sign for Mr. Walker, however many of the seats Democrats actually win.”

    And the Dems won 2, and were really close in 2 more. And the ones won are rural districts, some of which have elected and re-elected republican senators for over 100 years.

    Scotty and Kochs made a big mistake in going after Badger Care upon which so many small business people, especially farmers, rely. He can (and has, apparently) successfully gerrymandered the suburbs into Republican Strongholds, but with the rural areas going blue polka-dotted, it’s only a matter of time.


  7. Submitted by T J Simplot on 08/10/2011 - 01:35 pm.

    I must admit that I agree with some of the legislation that passed in WI but I do think they passed too much too soon. While the dems lost, I do applaud their efforts in calling for a recall and holding the politicians accountable.

    The lead in the legislature is now 17 – 16. That’s a lot different than 19 – 14.

  8. Submitted by Diane Clare on 08/10/2011 - 01:38 pm.

    No real inside info, but many in WI were pretty disgusted with how their state capital was trashed.
    And I think many must be amazed and gratified that the cuts to school have been reclaimed through school districts being able to pick the best, coverage and cost, health insurance for their teachers. Unbelievable that the union was able to cut the cost of their insurance enough to save school districts all that money, saving teachers’ jobs and being able to really spend on students” best interests.

  9. Submitted by Mike Naas on 08/10/2011 - 05:50 pm.

    Congratulations to Wisconsin voters who reaffirmed the conservative movement to rein in out of control government spending and taxes. Congratulations also to the bold law makers who have risked their political future to do what is right for Wisconsin and demonstrate what fiscally responsible leadership looks like in State government. Thank you … thank you … thank you. Have you seen the article in the Washington Examiner of one school district that went from a deficit to a huge budget surplus after Wisc. Union monopoly on insurance which became the highest priced insurance in the USA under the union rules in Wisc? Take a look at how this government scandal was broken by the conservatives of Wiscconsin. Here is the link. All State and local government needs to take a close look at the positive effects of Wisconsin’s fiscal responsible leadership. Any State that wants more jobs, lower taxes and healthier and growing employers, needs to do what Wisconsin has done with unions and by controlling spending.

    Now, finish the recall elections by recalling the Democrats that abandoned Wisconsin. Wisconsin voters should now move to hold recall elections for each and every Wisconsin Democrat that abandoned the State, abandoned their job, and failed to fulfill their roles in the legislature by fleeing the State of Wisconsin. These democrats should be replaced with anyone from any other party for their behavior. Abandoning the State that elected them to represent the people should not be tolerated by the citizens of Wisconsin. Now, finish the recall elections by recalling the Democrats that abandoned Wisconsin.

  10. Submitted by Zoey Mann on 08/10/2011 - 06:18 pm.

    While it’s certainly not a total defeat of Republicans, I still don’t think they can shout victory, either. There were enough petition signers to challenge SIX Republicans, and two lost! Yes, four retained their seats and Repubs are still in the majority, but it certainly doesn’t seem like overwhelming support. A 17-16 majority is hardly a commanding lead.

  11. Submitted by Mary Jo Anderson on 08/10/2011 - 10:44 pm.

    @ Mike Naas: The WI teachers will pay more into their pensions, more for their insurance, will teach an additional class each day and work an extra 2 1/2 hours each week. So every teacher will, in fact, take a pay cut. The article talks about smaller class sizes but says nothing about how a teacher can grade papers for six classes and make six teaching plans with only one free hour a day. Sure, the classes will be smaller, but it is very likely the teachers will have to sacrifice quality. The students don’t win and the teachers don’t win. And teachers do not work only nine months out of the year – most are taking post-graduate classes during the summer, as required by their contracts.

  12. Submitted by Fred Nicholson on 08/13/2011 - 09:15 am.

    Odd to claim that losing 2 seats in the Senate is considered a victory.

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