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Wis. senators try to keep seats in recall election sparked by anti-Republican backlash
MADISON, Wis. (AP) ' Six Republican Wisconsin lawmakers fought Tuesday to survive recall challenges stemming from the political backlash against GOP Gov. Scott Walker's move to strip public employee unions of most collective bargaining rights.
Fueled by millions of dollars from national labor groups, the challenge to GOP incumbents could shift control of the Wisconsin Senate to Democrats and provide a new gauge of the public mood less than a year after Republicans made sweeping gains in this state and others.
Turnout was strong in the morning and steady in the afternoon in communities like Whitefish Bay, Menomonee Falls and Shorewood, where Sen. Albert Darling was one of six Republicans trying to keep her seat.
Tony Spencer, a 36-year-old laid-off carpenter from Shorewood, voted for Darling's challenger, Sandy Pasch.
"I'm in a private union, so they haven't necessarily come after me," Spencer said. "But everybody should have the right to be in a union. I came out to stop all the union-bashing stuff."
John Gill, 45, of Menomonee Falls, voted for Darling and questioned the opposition's anti-GOP rhetoric, which went far beyond collective bargaining.
"This was all supposed to be about the workers' rights, so to speak. But that has not been brought up one time. It's all been misleading, the attack ads, things like that," Gill said. "The one reason they started this recall, they didn't bring up once."
Besides the six Republicans on Tuesday's ballot, two Democratic incumbents face recalls next week. A third Democrat survived a recall attempt last month.
Republicans hold a 19-14 advantage in the Senate, so Democrats need to win five of the eight elections to take control.
If the Democrats win only one or two on Tuesday, they cannot take control. If they win three or four, control hinges on the outcome of next week's recalls. If they win at least five, they will take control of the Senate no matter what happens next week.
Until this year, there were only 20 attempts nationally since 1913 to recall lawmakers from office, just 13 of them successful.
The stakes were clearly much larger than simply determining who has control of the state Senate. The elections figured to help determine whether the Republican revolution led by Walker will get a shot in the arm or a major setback. Both parties also were testing messages ahead of the 2012 presidential race, in which Wisconsin could be an important swing state.
"It just kind of speaks to the partisanship. It's silly on both sides. I think if it had been the other way around, I couldn't have said the Democrats wouldn't have done the same thing," said Rebecca Perkins, a 29-year-old schoolteacher who voted for Pasch.
"It gives a bad taste in people's mouths. We're looking for people who are going to represent us, not play games."
The five other Republican incumbents facing recalls on Tuesday are Sens. Randy Hopper of Fond du Lac, Luther Olsen of Ripon, Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls, Rob Cowles of Allouez and Dan Kapanke of La Crosse.
The races next Tuesday target Sens. Bob Wirch of Pleasant Prairie and Jim Holperin of Conover.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said the party was "all in" to win the races. A coalition of national unions spent millions on attack ads and other campaign activity to wrest seats from the Republicans. Conservative groups also spent millions.
It all amounted to a summer unlike any other in Wisconsin. More than $31 million was estimated to have been spent on the nine recall efforts, rivaling the $37 million spent on last year's governor's race.
"I feel that a lot of people didn't get their way, threw a crybaby fit and decided to have a recall. The majority of Wisconsin already voted," said 43-year-old Ross Birkigt of Menomonee Falls. "It's a shame that all of sudden this happens and that a lot of special-interest money gets poured into it. I'm kind getting sick of seeing this stuff on TV every single minute.
"Before I left this morning, I saw 10 ads for each candidate. Voices will get heard and by tonight, the rest of it will play out."
Republicans won control of both houses of the Legislature and the governor's office in the 2010 election just nine months ago.
The Legislature that had been approving Republican-backed bills in rapid succession and with great ease will likely grind to a halt if Democrats win back the Senate and are then able to block anything from passage without a bipartisan agreement.
Any newly elected senator will take office within 15 days, a brief window in which Republican Senate leaders could call a lame-duck session if they are about to lose control.
Associated Press writers Colin Fly in Menomonee Falls, Wis., and Marilynn Marchione in Whitefish Bay, Wis., contributed to this report.