Republicans Hold Control of Wisconsin Senate

Wisconsin has been in the national spotlight leading up to yesterday’s recall elections. Besides the six Republicans on yesterday’s ballot, two Democratic incumbents face recalls next week. A third Democrat survived a recall attempt last month. Below are the results of the races for six incumbent Republican senators.

The Republicans will continue to control the Wisconsin Senate, losing only two seats to the Democrats. Six Republican Senators faced unprecedented recall elections as a result of voting for Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill which contained numerous changes affecting public employee unions, including the controversial provision removing collective bargaining for most public employees. 

Democrats needed to gain three seats in order to regain control of the Senate. The Republican win is significant for a number of reasons. First and foremost, Republicans will continue to hold complete control of the Legislature and the Governor’s office. Second, the likelihood of recalling Gov. Walker has been reduced significantly. While it is likely public union activists will move forward with a recall attempt against Gov. Walker, their failure to help the Democrats regain control of the Senate is likely to diminish this effort.

Two Democratic Senators face recall elections next Tuesday, August 16. Republicans could potentially add to their lead. The closest race is between incumbent Sen. Jim Holperin (D-Conover) and challenger Kim Simac (R-Eagle River).

While incumbent Sen. Robert Wirch (D-Pleasant Prairie) faces challenger Jonathan Seitz (R-Pleasant Prairie), election observers predict Sen. Wirch will hold on and win that seat.

There are estimates that spending by third party groups and campaigns reached $30 million thus far on the nine recall elections. Wisconsin earlier this year made national headlines as result of Gov. Walker’s budget repair bill containing significant public employee union reforms.

Below is a district by district snapshot of last night’s election results.

32nd Senate District – Challenger Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) defeats incumbent Dan Kapanke (R-La Crosse) (Shilling wins 55/45%)

Many considered Sen. Kapanke the most vulnerable, and this held true with State Rep. Jennifer Shilling winning handily, 55 percent to 45 percent. The district has a high concentration of public employees and typically is a swing district. 

18th Senate District – Challenger Jessica King (D-Oshkosh) defeats incumbent Randy Hopper (Fond du Lac) (King wins 51/49%)

Sen. Hopper was also considered vulnerable given the high concentration of public employees in his district and personal issues that made headlines. Hopper narrowly defeated King in 2008 in the general election, only to lose to King in the recall election. King has a law degree, owns a business, and currently is Deputy Mayor of Oshkosh. 

14th Senate District – Incumbent Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) defeats challenger Fred Clark (D- Baraboo) (Olsen wins 52/48%)

Many observers were surprised when this race became close given the more conservative makeup of the district. Sen. Olsen was able to hold on despite a spirited and close race run by Rep. Clark and considerable third party spending. 

8th Senate District – Incumbent Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) defeats challenger Sandy Pasch (Whitefish Bay) (Darling wins 54/46%)

Sen. Darling has represented the 8th Senate District for nearly 19 years, and before that served for two years in the State Assembly. Rep. Pasch was elected to the State Assembly in 2008. This race became one of the more heated campaigns, with both candidates trading jabs and third party groups flooding the airwaves with negative ads. 

2nd Senate District – Incumbent Robert Cowles (R-Allouez) defeats challenger Nancy Nusbaum (D- De Pere) (Cowles wins 60/40%)

Sen. Cowles was able to hold off and defeat his first opponent in three election cycles. Nusbaum is a former Brown County Board Executive and De Pere Mayor.

10th Senate District – Incumbent Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls) defeats Shelly Moore (D-River Falls) (Harsdorf wins 58/42%)
Sen. Harsdorf was also considered likely to hold on to victory and the race gained less attention than the other recall elections. Sen. Harsdorf’s opponent, Shelly Moore, is a high school English teacher and union activist.