WASHINGTON -- Despite polls showing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) maintaining a narrow lead in his bid to fend off a recall challenge Tuesday, national Democrats said they remain confident the party will come out on top during the election.
Michael Sargeant, head of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, a national group focused on electing Democrats to state legislative seats, told HuffPost he is confident that Democrats can win the one state Senate seat they need to grab control of the chamber. Sargeant said polling data shows three of the four Senate recall races within the margin of error. "It is likely we'll pick up one seat," he said.
In addition to statewide recalls for governor and lieutenant governor, voters in four Wisconsin Senate districts have recall races of their own. Democrats said they have the strongest chance of defeating either Sen. Terry Moulton (R-Chippewa Falls) or Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine), or picking up a vacant Wausau area seat. Democrats are fielding former Rep. Kristin Dexter against Moulton and former Sen. John Lehman against Wanggaard. Democratic Rep. Donna Seidel and Republican Rep. Jerry Petrowski are facing off for the open state senate seat.
The seat became vacant when former Sen. Pam Galloway (R) resigned unexpectely in March as the recall campaign against her was finalized by state officials. Galloway said that her resignation was due to "multiple, sudden and serious health issues" in her family and was unconnected to the recall. State officials said the election would proceed as a special election. Galloway's resignation leaves the Senate tied.
Senate Republican Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Clyman), facing a recall challenge from Democrat Lori Compas, is seen as the frontrunner in the rural southeastern Wisconsin district. When Wisconsin Democrats unveiled Senate challengers for the first time in March, a Fitzgerald challenger was not among the group. While the district trends Republican, Sargaent gave credit to voters for forcing a recall against the Senate leader.
"I am not going to disregard what she has done," Sargeant said of Compas.
Following the 2011 recall elections, Democrats closed the Senate gap to one seat shy of the majority, with Galloway's resignation causing a tie in the chamber. The tie caused Fitzgerald and Senate Democratic Leader Mark Miller (D-Monona) to become co-leaders pending Tuesday's election. In addition Walker faces a recall battle against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch (R) is facing off against state firefighters union president Mahlon Mitchell (D).
If Democrats retake the Senate with Walker remaining in the governor's mansion, the victory may be hollow. The state legislature has adjourned for the year and the Senate cannot return to Madison without the consent of the Republican-controlled Assembly, unless the governor calls them back. Half of the Senate faces voters in November. Democrats have said winning the majority in June can help with momentum for the November race.
Sargaent said he sees a Democratic Senate as positive for Wisconsin. "Having a Democratic Senate will restore some sense of sanity in state government," he said.
The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee has helped Wisconsin candidates with research, polling and communications during the recall battle. While the recalls are dictated by specific Wisconsin issues, Sargeant said he believes that Democrats elsewhere are poised to pick up state legislative seats.
"What the Republicans have done is they ran on a platform of expanding jobs," Sargeant said. "That is the last thing they have talked about. It has been about a divisive social and economic agenda. It pits people against each other. It allienates neighbors and it takes away fundamental American rights."CORRECTION: This article was updated to reflect that Donna Seidel, not Kristin Seidel, is running for the Wisconsin State Senate.