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Recall Elections to Determine Wisconsin Senate Control

wisconsin_recall_AP

In this April 1, 2011 file photo, David Buerger, an elections specialist with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, inspects recall petitions filed against Sen. Dan Kapanke, R-LaCrosse, in his Madison, Wis. office. (AP/Wisconsin State Journal)

Two of six Wisconsin state senators have held on to their seats in recall elections.

Four other races Tuesday were too close to call.

Republican incumbents are trying to beat back Democratic challengers who stoked a backlash against the GOP and Gov. Scott Walker for their efforts to strip public employees of most union rights.

Republicans Sen. Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls and Sen. Rob Cowles of Allouez defeated their Democratic challengers. Democrats led in two other races. Democrats need to win at least three races to take over majority control of the Senate.

The races targeting incumbent Republicans morphed into a high-stakes political fight with national implications as tens of millions of dollars poured into the state, breaking spending records in the unprecedented recalls.

Until this year, there were only 20 attempts nationally since 1913 to recall lawmakers from office, just 13 of them successful.

Besides the six Republicans on Tuesday's ballot, two Democratic incumbents face recalls next week. A third Democrat survived a recall attempt last month.

Republicans hold a 19-14 advantage in the Senate, so Democrats need to win five of the eight elections to take control.

If Republicans lose three or four seats on Tuesday, the balance of power in the Senate will rest on the outcome of the two Democratic races next week. Those races target Sens. Bob Wirch of Pleasant Prairie and Jim Holperin of Conover.

The stakes were clearly much larger than simply determining who has control of the state Senate. The elections figured to help determine whether the Republican revolution led by Walker will get a shot in the arm or a major setback. Both parties also were testing messaging ahead of the 2012 presidential race, in which Wisconsin could be an important swing state.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said it was "all in" to win the races, while a coalition of national unions spent millions on attack ads and other campaign activity to take seats from the Republicans. Conservative groups also spent millions.

It all amounted to a summer unlike any other in Wisconsin, with the unprecedented recalls the largest unified effort to kick incumbents out of office in history. More than $31 million was estimated to have been spent on the nine recall elections, rivaling the $37 million spent on last year's governor's race.

Republicans won control of both houses of the Legislature and the governor's office in the 2010 election just nine months ago.

Since January, the Legislature that had been passing Republican-backed bills in rapid succession and with great ease will likely grind to a halt if Democrats win back the Senate and are then able to block anything from clearing without a bipartisan agreement.

Any newly elected senator will take office within 15 days of the election, a brief window where Republican Senate leaders could call a lame duck session if they are about to lose majority control.