Wisconsin voters will head to the polls Tuesday for the state’s unprecedented recall elections, as six Republican state senators who supported Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) union-busting budget law face off against challengers seeking to swing the state Senate into Democratic control. Democrats need three seats to take control of the Senate, and though they still would not be able to repeal the law that stripped public workers — including teachers — of collective bargaining rights, tomorrow’s elections could be a valuable forecast forward to January, when Walker himself becomes eligible for recall.
ThinkProgress compiled summaries of the six Republicans facing recalls tomorrow, from one who allegedly voted in favor of the law to avoid primary threats to another who can reportedly count his wife as a vote against him:
Sen. Dan Kapanke: The most vulnerable of the Republicans, Kapanke faces state Rep. Jennifer Shilling (D). Kapanke attracted the Wisconsinites’ ire for spreading multiple lies about the protesters that rallied outside the state capitol. First, Kapanke alleged that protesters had damaged his car, a claim Wisconsin police found to be false. Then, in a fundraising letter, he blamed protesters for $7.5 million in damages to the capitol building, another blatant falsehood. Realizing his unpopularity, Kapanke recently told supporters that he hoped public workers “are sleeping” through the recall elections.
Sen. Randy Hopper: Hopper, who no longer lives in his own district, faces former city councilwoman and Deputy Mayor Jessica King (D). After Kapanke, Hopper is the most vulnerable Republican, owing to revelations about his alleged affair with a former staff member. Among Hopper’s biggest critics are his former maid and his estranged wife, who reportedly signed onto the petition to recall Hopper and indicated that she would contribute to his challenger’s campaign.
Sen. Sheila Harsdorf: Harsdorf, who has been in Wisconsin politics for more than two decades, faces schoolteacher Shelly Moore. Harsdorf recently co-sponsored a bill — modeled on legislation provided by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group that provides pro-business model legislation to conservative lawmakers — that would reduce taxes on chewing tobacco. An outside group supporting her campaign, meanwhile, recently ran a campaign ad with a voice-over seemingly done by actor Morgan Freeman — prompting someone close to Freeman to contact Moore’s campaign to let it know he wasn’t a part of the ads.
Sen. Robert Cowles: Likely the safest of the six Republicans, Cowles is running against former mayor and county executive Nancy Nusbaum (D). The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in June that Cowles was, at first, opposed to Walker’s anti-union bill but voted for it after being threatened with a more conservative primary challenger. “I didn’t like this (bill) either,” Cowles allegedly told a prominent business leader in his district. “I didn’t like anything about the way it was done. But the governor’s office told us if we didn’t give them our support, they would run a tea party candidate against us.” Cowles disputed the claims, saying he was never threatened.
Sen. Luther Olsen: Olsen, who in 16 years has not faced a Democratic opponent, is up against state Rep. Fred Clark (D). Olsen co-sponsored the same ALEC-backed bill as Harsdorf and, like Cowles, initially seemed to oppose the Walker bill. “The concept is pretty radical,” Olsen said at the time. “It affects a lot of good working people.” Despite those concerns, however, Olsen ultimately voted for the bill.
Sen. Alberta Darling: Darling, who faces state Rep. Sandy Pasch (D), has seemingly insisted on making her recall campaign as tough as possible, calling Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) “a hero” and championing his Medicare-ending federal budget plan. As if that wasn’t enough, Darling decried Democratic efforts to raise taxes on the rich by telling a constituent that those who make more than $250,000 a year “aren’t wealthy people” — even though only 2 percent of Wisconsinites earn more than $200,000 annually. “We’re not interested in raising taxes on the quote ‘rich’,” Darling added.
Poll numbers have shown varying degrees of vulnerabilities for the six Republicans, and voter turnout will almost certainly decide the result of the state’s largest-ever recall effort. Even if Democrats net three victories tomorrow, however, they won’t have clear control of the state Senate. Next Tuesday, voters will again return to the polls to decide recall elections targeting three Senate Democrats.