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Wisconsin Recalls 2011: Voters Head To Polls For First General Election Contest

Wisconsin

First Posted: 07/19/11 08:58 AM ET Updated: 09/18/11 06:12 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- The Wisconsin recall fight kicks into full gear on Tuesday, with Green Bay voters heading to the polls in the first general recall election of the season. The outcome will determine whether incumbent Democrat Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) gets to keep his seat.

Six Republican and three Democratic state senators are facing recall elections this summer, with most of the elections taking place in August. The efforts to change the make-up of the state Senate came after Republicans passed Gov. Scott Walker's (R) controversial measure stripping public employees of their collective bargaining rights. Senate Democrats left the state for 21 days in order to delay their colleagues from pushing through the bill.

Hansen's Senate District 30 challenger is David VanderLeest, whose legal and personal troubles have been a focus of the intense campaign. He has $25,000 in unpaid property taxes and a history of domestic abuse.

As the Green Bay Press Gazette reported, "VanderLeest hasn't paid property taxes in three years, pled no contest to two misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges related to allegations of domestic abuse and has a bankruptcy, home foreclosure and unpaid settlement from 2006."

On Monday, VanderLeest announced that he plans to file a "slander lawsuit" against Hansen and several left-leaning groups -- the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, Greater Wisconsin Political Fund, We Are Wisconsin, Politiscoop, The Green Bay Progressive and One Wisconsin Now.

In a statement, VanderLeest said he had been the victim of "Chicago style mob politics," pointing to ads and mailers run by the groups.

A Public Policy Polling survey taken just days before the election (July 15-17) had Hansen leading, 62-34.

Democrats need to pick up three seats to win control of the upper chamber, which would give them the power to block many of Walker's proposals. Sen. Dan Kapanke (R-La Crosse), whose district has a strong Democratic presence, is widely considered the member most vulnerable to recall. Sens. Randy Hopper (R-Fond du Lac) and Jim Holperin (D-Conover) are also top targets.

Only two state lawmakers have been successfully recalled throughout Wisconsin's history.

While many of the recall elections are still several weeks away, the ad wars are already heating up. Independent expenditure groups on the Democratic side have outspent GOP ones almost 2-to-1 on broadcast television in the state's largest television markets, according to the firm CMAG, which tracks campaign advertising. The biggest spending by Democrats has been in the race of Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls).

Voters in Senate Districts 12 and 22 are also heading to the polls on Tuesday, for GOP primary elections to determine who will face off against Holperin and Sen. Robert Wirch (D-Pleasant Prairie), respectively.

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