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Wisconsin Recall Election Results: Democrats Keep State Senate Seats (VIDEO)

AP/The Huffington Post   First Posted: 08/17/11 12:01 AM ET Updated: 10/16/11 06:12 AM ET

Both of the Democratic Wisconsin state senators up for recall elections have survived.

The Democrats targeted in Tuesday's election were among the 14 senators who fled the state in February in opposition to Republican Gov. Scott Walker's proposal curbing public employee collective bargaining rights.

Both won in recalls against Republican challengers.

Democrats picked up two seats through the nine recalls but were unable to wrest majority Senate control away from the GOP, which now holds a narrow 17-16 majority. Before the recalls, Republicans had a 19-14 edge in the chamber.

Democratic Sen. Bob Wirch of Pleasant Prairie defeated Kenosha attorney Jonathan Steitz, and Sen. Jim Holperin of Conover beat tea party Republican Kim Simac of Eagle River.

A third Democrat won a recall election last month. Two Republicans were defeated in six recall elections last week.

Even though they remain in the minority, Democrats were savoring Tuesday's victories.

Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate said Democrats have "fundamentally changed the face of power in the Wisconsin Legislature" through the recalls. Even though Republicans remain in the majority, Tate said Democrats' picking up two seats and making gains in Republican districts sets the table for big wins next year.

"It's really hard to go five for nine and not be pleased of the progress that we made," he said.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in a statement that he was proud the GOP maintained its majority through the recalls. He said Tuesday's results were a rejection of the recall process.

"The problems facing our state are too serious for these political games, and the Democrats' permanent campaign cycle," Fitzgerald said in the statement. "The Democrats need to start working with the other side of the aisle, not just moving on to their next recall target."

Walker pledged last week to reach out to Democratic leaders to find proposals they could work on together, but his overtures were met with skepticism by the Democrats still stung by his pushing through of the collective bargaining bill without compromises.

Holperin, who won with 54 percent of the vote based on unofficial results, said the election showed that not everyone disapproved of Democrats leaving the state during the heated collective bargaining debate.

"Voters apparently think that was more of a good thing than a bad thing," he said.

Holperin is the first state-level elected official in U.S. history to have faced two recall attempts. He survived one in 1990 as a member of the state Assembly after he was targeted for supporting tribal spearfishing rights.

In that race, Holperin spent $56,000. So far this time he's spent at least $319,000 and combined with spending from outside groups and his tea party Republican opponent Kim Simac, total spending is estimated to be at least $4.5 million.

It's estimated that total spending may break $40 million on the nine recall races combined.

Wirch, who was first elected to the Assembly in 1992 and the Senate in 1996, won with 58 percent of the vote based on unofficial results. His district covers the city of Kenosha and surrounding area in southeast Wisconsin near the Illinois border.

Robert Merton, 73, a retired firefighter from Pleasant Prairie, said he voted for Wirch on Tuesday because the senator has always stood up for unions and middle-class values.

"He's done a good job," Merton said. "He's always been there for us."

But another Pleasant Prairie voter said he couldn't forgive Wirch for fleeing the state rather than staying to express his objections in Madison. Don Camacho, a 61-year-old sales representative in the manufacturing industry, said he voted for Wirch in the past but this time chose Steitz because Wirch abandoned his constituents.

"I was (ticked) off at him for leaving the state," Camacho said. "He got elected to do a job. He should have done it."

Holperin, who served 12 years in the Assembly between 1983 and 1995 before being elected to the Senate in 2008, defeated Simac of Eagle River. She founded the Northwoods Patriots and would be the first tea party candidate elected to the Wisconsin state Senate if she wins.

The rural district covers Wisconsin's sprawling north woods.

Three Lakes resident Nicole Senter, 32, said she voted for Holperin because she's satisfied with the job he has done.

"He's not as liberal as I'd like him to be," said Senter, a bank employee. "But for up here he's moderate enough to help everyone, not just the unions like some people seem to think. His interest is in the north woods."

Simac supporter Shirley Kufeldt disagreed. The retired officer worker from Conover said she voted for the challenger because Holperin showed "cowardice" by leaving the state.

"I have seen Kim Simac as a consensus builder," Kufeldt said. "I've never seen that from Jim Holperin."

The nine recall elections in Wisconsin this year were the largest ever in the nation's history. Previously, in nearly 100 years there had been only 20 recall attempts, including Holperin's, with just 13 successful.

With the ouster of two Republicans last week, of the 15 state-level office holders recalled nationwide, four of them have been from Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Democratic party leaders say they are moving ahead with plans to mount an effort to recall Walker next year, even though Republicans retained their majority in the Senate.

We're following the latest developments as they unfold in Wisconsin. Check out the live blog below.

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Wisconsin Democrats Bob Wirch and Jim Holperin will keep their state Senate seats -- the AP has declared both men winners after Tuesday's recall elections. Wirch defeated Republican challenger Jonathan Steitz, and Holperin fought off Tea Party challenger Kim Simac.

The Wisconsin state Senate will continue to be controlled by a Republican majority, despite the fact that two Republicans lost their seats in last week's recall races.

Wisconsin Patch is reporting from the election night parties of candidates Wirch and Steitz. Click here to read more on the outcome of the races.

-- Paige Lavender

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Mount Pleasant-Sturtevant Patch editor Heather Asiyanbi reports:

Cheers went up at Wirch's victory party when it was announced that Jim Holperin had also successfully defended his state senate seat against Republican challenger Kim Simac.

With both Democratic seats intact, the balance in the state Senate remains 17/16, which means, if Senator Schultz from Richland Center goes with the more moderate view on some issues, Governor Scott Walker's initiatives could have a harder time getting approved.

Holperin represents the 12th district, in northern Wisconsin.

Click here to read more.

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@ sbauerAP : AP declares Democrat Holperin winner, second Democrat to win #wirecall Tuesday. Republican majority stays 17-16 in Senate.

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@ MadPolitics : With 71% of wards reporting: Sen. Jim Holperin 53% — Kim Simac 47%. #wirecall #wiunion #teaparty

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Mount Pleasant-Sturtevant Patch editor Heather Asiyanbi reports:

Wirch gave his victory speech, saying Wisconsin has the nicest people in the world ... until you make them mad! The crowd cheered wildly and then Wirch thanked his wife and kids for their unwavering support.

But Wirch also said it's time now to get back to work, to get back to civility using the energy built up for this campaign to reclaim the state.

The crowd responded with a rousing chant of "Recall Walker," and after a minute or so, Wirch held up his hand for quiet.

He asked the crowd to keep the movement going. He thanked everyone from the bottom of his heart and left the stage.

Click here to read more.

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The AP has declared Democrat Bob Wirch winner of the 22nd state Senate District race.

Mount Pleasant-Sturtevant Patch editor Heather Asiyanbi reports:

Wirch's supporters cheered him onto the stage at 9:30 p.m.

With 94 of 95 polls reporting in Kenosha County, Wirch had 21,327 votes to Jonathan Steitz's 14,840. In Racine County, town and city of Burlington votes came in for Steitz, with 2,863 votes to state Sen. Bob Wirch's 2,078 votes. All totals are unofficial, according to the Kenosha County Clerk and Racine County Clerk offices.

Combined, as of 9:35 p.m., Wirch had 23,405 votes and Steitz 17,703.

Click here to read more.

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Caledonia Patch editor Denise Lockwood reports:

People at Republican Jonathan Steitz’s campaign headquarters at the Brat Stop remain positive about the outcome of the 22nd District election.

Hundreds crowded into a banquet room at the Brat Stop as they discussed the polling activity and moods were positive until about 9:10 p.m., when someone announced the numbers were going the wrong way.

Click here to read more.

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@ sbauerAP : AP declares Democratic incumbent Wirch winner over Republican Steitz in 22nd district #wirecall

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Wisconsin Patch reports:

In Kenosha County, where most votes will be cast, 65 of 95 polls have reported results. There, Wirch has pulled ahead, with 15,941 votes to Steitz's 11,479.

Click here to read more.

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@ MadPolitics : 53,510 votes counted so far in both races. 22,067 in Dist. 12 (Holperin), 31,443 in Dist. 22 (Wirch)

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Mount Pleasant-Sturtevant Patch editor Heather Asiyanbi reports:

Wirch supporters continue to trickle in to the campaign party. And it is a party atmosphere. People are mingling, laughing, and even gathering around the Patch computer to check results through the Kenosha County website and from FOX 6 News to be sure the numbers are consistent.

Word is spreading that Steitz took Burlington, but by a small percentage and people are looking at that result as good news since they expected Steitz to get bigger numbers out there.

Click here to read more.

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@ news3jessica : Lead Switch in the 22nd-- With 27 of 95 reporting, Wirch (D) 54% Steitz (R) 45%

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Caledonia Patch editor Denise Lockwood reports:

The mood is high at the packed election night party for Republican Jonathan Steitz, who is trying to take State Sen. Bob Wirch's seat away from him in the Aug. 16 recall election.

Click here to read more.

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@ sbauerAP : Latest results shrink Republican Steitz lead in #wirecall against incumbent Dem Wirch to just 365 votes.

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@ ChrisJLarson : Was up in Holperin's area and saw many of the Republican Senators stumping for Simac. This could be close.... http://t.co/zLkzrzG

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Reuters reports:

Poll workers in the northern Wisconsin district had said they expected high turnout, In the southern district, long lines were reported at Kenosha polling places, according to Reid Magney, spokesman for the state Government Accountability Board.

With seven of the nine recalls over, Republicans have managed to keep control of the state senate -- 17 to 16 if they score no wins on Tuesday -- because Democrats failed to unseat three senators in six Republican recalls last week.

Click here to read more.

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@ MadPolitics : With about 1/3 of all wards reporting: Sen. Jim Holperin has 7286 (55%) — Kim Simac has 5944 (45%). #wirecall #wiunion #teaparty

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@ SykesCharlie : Sources say Simac underperformed in Minocqua. Not a good sign. She won by 115.. Should have won by 300+

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@ blueayes : Roger Breske is here at Holperin HQ. #wirecall

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@ SNienow : With 7% of precincts reporting, GOP challengers are up 59% & 54% in #WIRecall. $20 million for a net +0 teeing up?? http://t.co/oQsCidR

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@ WI_Majority : With 7 wards reporting, Steitz leads Sen. Wirch 54-46% #wivote #wirecall

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@ MattBatzel : Sen. Holperin up early 444-350 over Simac from Forest County results #wirecall #wivote

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@ ballotpedia : Steitz leads Wirch 1,768-1,555 in Kenosha with 4 out of 95 polls in. http://t.co/bV0GryT #wirecall #wiunion

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@ MadPolitics : The first ward of the night has reported! 15 for Wirch, 35 for Steitz. #wirecall #wiunion

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Patch's Heather Asiyanbi reports:

Residents of Senate District 22 filed through polling locations on Aug. 16 at a steady pace for the recall election of Bob Wirch (D-Kenosha). He faces Republican challenger Jonathan Steitz.

Marty Redlin, chief inspector at the Moose Lodge on 30th Street, said turnout is less than during the 2008 Presidential election but well above normal.

"I feel like this is an emotional election for people on both sides," he said. "And it's interesting because with the redistricting maps, neither candidate lives inside the new senate district."

Click here to read more.

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@ sbauerAP : Polls are now closed in #wirecall of Wis. Democrats Bob Wirch and Jim Holperin.

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WBAY's Chris Hrapsky reports:

Wisconsin's historic recall elections are about to come to an end as polls close in the final two elections at 8 P.M.

In Senate District 22, covering parts of southern Wisconsin, voters are choosing between incumbent Democratic Senator Bob Wirch and Republican challenger Jonathan Stietz.

In Senate District 12, in northern Wisconsin, incumbent Democratic Senator Jim Holperin is challenged by Republican Kim Simac.

Democrats gained two seats in last week's recall elections, but the Republican majority in the Senate was assured regardless of the outcome of these last two recall votes.

But that didn't stop people from turning out to cast their ballots.

Click here to read more.

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The Lakeland Times reports:

Election officials were reporting heavy turnout in the 12th District Senate recall race early Tuesday afternoon.

In predominately Republican Minocqua, election observers told The Lakeland Times shortly before noon that turnout for that time of day was approaching last fall's governor's race. Nearly 700 people had already voted.

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Sean Sullivan of Hotline On Call reports:

Brian Sikma of the conservative watchdog group Media Trackers tells Hotline On Call: Turnout in the 12th District will probably exceed the spring Supreme Court election by some unknown margin. Around 4 and 5 hours after polls opened turnout was ranging from 25 percent to 42 percent of the spring election. Lower turnout was coming from wards nearly evenly split between Democrats and Republicans (based on 2010 and Spring 2011 elections) and higher turnout was in areas that trend Democratic.

Click here to read more.

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Writing for the Washington Post blog The Fix, Rachel Weiner reports:

After high turnout in last week’s Wisconsin recall elections, voter interest was expected to drop in Tuesday’s races where two Democratic state senators are being targeted. One is expected to have a competitive contest, but the state Senate is no longer in play.

But turnout is still pretty high for a recall, if not as high as it was last week.

Click here to read more.

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