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Wisconsin Republicans Retain Control of Senate in Win for Walker

Democrats in Wisconsin fell short of their goal of capturing control of the state Senate and blunting the agenda of Governor Scott Walker when they failed to oust three Republicans in six recall elections.

Republican incumbents Alberta Darling, Sheila Harsdorf, Luther Olsen and Robert Cowles survived yesterday’s recalls, according to vote tallies by the Associated Press. Democrats took two seats, cutting the Republican margin in the Senate to 17-16. Jennifer Shilling defeated Senator Dan Kapanke and Jessica King beat Senator Randy Hopper, AP said.

The results represent a victory for Walker, 43, who used his legislative majorities to place collective-bargaining curbs on most public employee unions in March, sparking weeks of protests. The Aug. 16 recall election of two Democratic senators will now have no bearing on control of the chamber.

The recall elections for the state legislative seats drew national attention and a projected $40 million in campaign spending from Republican and Democratic support groups in a fight that was viewed as the first battle of the 2012 election season.

The votes were the climax of months of political fighting in Wisconsin, sparked by Walker’s collective-bargaining bill, which he signed into law March 11.

Recall efforts by Democrats began as Walker used Republican majorities in the Legislature to push through the union curbs. Republicans retaliated with ouster efforts against some of the 14 Democrats who fled the state in February in an unsuccessful effort to block a vote on Walker’s plan.

Outside Spending

The record number of recall elections spurred national Republican and Democratic interest groups -- most from outside the state -- to spend tens of millions of dollars in television and radio ads that mirrored the nation’s political divisions.

Republican groups saw the votes as an attack on Walker and a potential threat to his fiscally conservative policies and efforts to rein in the influence of public-employee unions. Democratic groups and organized labor, a traditional ally, viewed the collective-bargaining curbs as a political assault on unions that could spread nationally.

Political interest groups registered with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, the state’s elections bureau, reported $14.2 million in spending as of this week. At least $14 million in additional money has come from unregistered groups for television ads and other efforts, said Michael Buelow, research director for the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks campaign spending.

Labor Groups

The biggest contributors for Democrats were We Are Wisconsin, a coalition of labor groups led by the AFL-CIO, and the Greater Wisconsin Committee. The leading Republican support groups were the Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity.

Voter turnout in the Milwaukee suburb of Glendale was heavier than expected, said Susanne Hanaman, the city clerk. Voting in off-year special elections is normally light, election officials said. Precincts in Milwaukee suburbs reported turnout of 50 percent or higher.

Some recall supporters said the vote was a warm-up for an ouster vote of Walker, who legally can’t be recalled until he has been in office for one year.

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