WASHINGTON -- Following a highly contentious seven-month battle, all but one of the nine recalled Wisconsin state Senators will fight to keep their seats in general elections happening on August 9 and August 16.
After Governor Scott Walker (R) signed a highly contentious budget bill that stripped public employees of their collective bargaining rights, petitions were filed to recall six Republican and three Democratic state Senators.
Energized by the decision by 14 Democratic state Senators to initially flee the state in an effort to prevent a vote on the legislation and the subsequent protests that occurred once Walker's budget was passed anyway, Democrats had pledged to exact revenge by removing Republican lawmakers through the recall process. Republicans responded by targeting three of those Democrats in return.
On July 19th, Democrat Dave Hansen won the first of the nine general recall elections against challenger David VanderLeest. Never a favorite of the state Republican Party, VanderLeest was hurt by his own legal and personal troubles, including nearly $25,000 in unpaid property taxes and past arrests for domestic abuse. Hansen took 65 percent of the vote in the election, easily keeping his hold on his seat, representing the 30th state Senate District.
The next stage in the recall campaign comes on August 9, when six recalled Republicans will face their Democratic challengers. State political observers say the race to watch on Tuesday will be the District 8 race between Democratic candidate Sandy Pasch -- a State Assemblymember -- and Republican Sen. Alberta Darling.
Darling, who is co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee that authored Walker's budget bill, has been a fundraising powerhouse throughout the recall elections, bringing in more than $1.1 million in donations and spending nearly $1 million in an effort to fend off her challenger. Even so, she has acknowledged that holding her seat won't be easy.
"Is this tense for me? Yes. Do I think I'm going to win? I'm giving it my best shot," she told a panel at the Milwaukee Press Club on Aug. 2.
Though no other candidate has matched Darling's fundraising numbers, many have outside groups pouring money into their coffers. Outside spending in the recall elections reached over $33 million on Monday, breaking the previous record of any Wisconsin statewide election, which was set at roughly $20 million during the 2008 cycle.
Other races that will be decided on Aug. 9 include the District 2 race between former Brown County Executive Nancy Nusbaum (D) and Sen. Robert Cowles (R); the District 10 race between teacher Shelly Moore (D) and Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R); the 14th state District race between Fred Clark (D) and Sen. Luther Olsen (R); the District 18 race between Oshkosh City Council member Jessica King (D) and Sen. Randy Hopper (R); and the District 32 race between State Assembly member Jennifer Shilling (D) and Sen. Dan Kapanke (R).
The remaining two elections on August 16 will pit Democratic state Sens. Jim Holperin and Robert Wirch against Tea Party favorite Kim Simac and attorney Jonathan Steitz, respectively.
If Democrats pick up a total of three new seats in the recall elections, their party will retake control of the Senate and gain an increased amount of influence over Walker's budget legislation.
Here are more details on each of the recall races:
Nancy Nusbaum is challenging state Sen. Robert Cowles for his District 2 seat. Nusbaum is the former mayor of De Pere, and was the Brown County Executive for eight years. More recently, she directed Crime Victim Services for Wisconsin. Cowles, who has served in both the Wisconsin Senate and the State Assembly, supported Gov. Scott Walker's controversial budget bill, including the cuts to union workers' collective bargaining rights. He hasn't faced significant opposition from a Democratic candidate in more than a decade, including two of his last three elections, when he ran unopposed. Many consider his seat to be one of the safest, despite the fact that 26,000 signatures -- 10,000 more than needed -- were collected to recall Cowles from office. Cowles (pictured) told WLUK-TV he's confident about his standings in the final days of the recall election. "I feel good about the campaign we put together. I feel good about the message, I don't mail it in, I work hard to do my thing, and I'm not just there filling the seat. I'm working hard to represent the entire district and all the people," said Cowles.
Alberta Darling (pictured), who represents Wisconsin's 8th state Senate District, has shattered spending records in her race against Sandy Pasch. She has raised more than $1.1 million individually, and spent almost $1 million in an effort to save her seat. Pasch, a nurse and State Assembly member, was not initially seen as a threat to her opponent, but polls show she has since closed the gap between the two. Nearly $8 million has been spent by both candidates and outside groups who support them.
Schoolteacher Shelly Moore is making her first run for public office by challenging Sheila Harsdorf, who represents Wisconsin's 10th state Senate District. Moore has acknowledged that her inexperience in politics make her the underdog compared with Harsdorf, who has held her Senate seat for more than two decades. "I'm running against a 23-year incumbent whose brother held the same office before her," Moore told Minnesota Public Radio. "I'm running against 34 years of family history and name recognition. Nobody knows me from Adam. I mean, my students know me. I'm a public school teacher." Harsdorf previously served in the Wisconsin State Assembly, where she was selected to the Joint Committee on Finance. She now serves on the Senate's Joint Committee on Finance, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Forestry, and Higher Education and the Senate Committee on State and Federal Relations and Information Technology.
Tea Party-favorite Kim Simac is challenging state Sen. Jim Holperin for his 12th District seat. Holperin (pictured) has previously served as a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly and was secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism for four years. Simac -- an author of children's books, including With My Rifle By My Side: A Second Amendment Lesson -- recently received criticism for comparing America's public education system to the Nazi regime. Campaigns for the two have spent a total of more than $500,000 combined.
Fred Clark (pictured) is challenging state Sen. Luther Olsen (R) for the 14th District Senate seat. This is the first time in more than 16 years Olsen has had a serious Democratic opponent in his predominately Republican district. Clark, formerly a small business owner, is a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly. His moderate views have brought him popularity with both Democrats and Republicans in the past. Olsen has said that he believes the 14th District recall election is unnecessary, calling it a "sort of shame." Clark has argued that he's challenging Olsen because he disapproves of the radical changes Olsen and the rest of the Wisconsin Senate Republicans have made. "I don't think any of us want to see the state lurching from direction to direction, but that is what I think voters think the state is doing today," Clark said, according to the Baraboo News Republic.
Jessica King is known for her work on the Oshkosh City Council, which she served on while simultaneously acting as the city's deputy mayor. She is challenging Sen. Randy Hopper, who represents Wisconsin's 18th District. Hopper supported Gov. Walker's budget legislation, and helped write the provision in the budget to save SeniorCare. He has received criticism, though, for personal matters, including providing a state job to a woman identified as his girlfriend. King has said she will work to expand the Wisconsin G.I. Bill to provide health care and opportunities for veterans. If she wins the election, this will be her first time serving as a representative on the state level.
Attorney Jonathan Steitz is looking to unseat Sen. Robert Wirch in the District 22 recall race on August 16. Steitz has touted the fact that he is not a career politician, saying on his website that "real-world leadership" is needed in Wisconsin. Wirch is a longtime politician who has represented the 22nd District since 1997 and previously served in the Wisconsin Assembly. He was one of the 14 senators who fled Wisconsin in April in an attempt to delay debate over Gov. Walker's controversial collective bargaining legislation.
Jennifer Shilling, who has served in the Wisconsin State Assembly since 2000, is challenging state Sen. Dan Kapanke for his seat in the 32nd District. Shilling (pictured) currently sits on the legislature's Joint Committee on Finance. She has a strong lead in the recall race, according to Wisconsin radio station WTAQ. Though he has raised more than three times the amount of campaign funds than Shilling, some political strategists have said Kapanke is the most vulnerable Republican candidate up for recall.
Democrat Dave Hansen won his state Senate seat back with 65 percent of the vote in a July 19 election against Republican David VanderLeest. Hansen had more than double the votes of VanderLeest, whose campaign was weighed down by his own legal and personal troubles. VanderLeest, who led the recall petition against Hansen, was never the Republican party's first choice as a candidate. He won the nomination after Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) did not receive enough valid petition signatures to qualify for the recall ballot.