If you are still afflicted with recall fever (generally accompanied by a rash and not covered under Obamacare), there’s more good news for you in Wisconsin today. Two of the Democratic state senators who fled the state to block a vote on Gov. Scott Walker’s collective-bargaining reforms are up for election today, just one week after six Republicans faced recall elections. Democrats picked up two seats in the state senate in the first round of voting (yet they failed to take over the majority in the senate), and the GOP has the chance to cut into those gains today.
In the northern part of the state, tea-partier Kim Simac takes on Democratic incumbent Jim Holperin in a GOP-leaning seat. The 12th senate district is an enormous district, sparsely populated, and with very few populous cities. Scott Walker won the district with 57 percent in 2010, yet Holperin is a well-known name in the area. Holperin represented part of the district for a decade in the 1980s and early 1990s, before returning to the legislature in 2008.
Compared to many of the more bare-knuckle affairs in the Republican round of recalls, this race has been reasonably cordial. In her TV ads, Simac fires up voters (and enthusiasts of thick Wisconsin accents) by ripping Holperin for fleeing the state when it came time to reform collective bargaining. Yet what the Tea Party giveth, it also taketh away — in a recent debate, Simac couldn’t name a single bill pending in the legislature that she would either support or oppose. A recent DailyKos poll has Holperin up double digits, but a poll conducted by the We Ask America polling firm has Holperin only up 51–49.
The second contest, in the 22nd district, is a longer shot for the GOP. Despite an attractive young candidate in Jonathan Steitz, this seat has always been out of reach for Republicans. The closest the GOP has gotten to retaking it in recent memory was in 2004, when future RNC chair Reince Priebus narrowly lost to incumbent Bob Wirch.
Steitz has similarly criticized Wirch for fleeing to Illinois in February. Wirch also received a “Pants on Fire” rating from Politifact for claiming he had lured 800 factory jobs to Kenosha, a claim the company forcefully denies. Wirch’s defenders, in turn, have popped Steitz for “failing to pay his taxes,” based on a single incident where Steitz’s business was late in paying its state taxes in 2003.
Both Republican candidates are hoping that Democratic voters are deflated after their failure to retake the senate last week. It seems it would be much more difficult for unions to organize get out the vote campaigns with so much less at stake. If the GOP gets back just one of the seats it lost on August 9, it would be a demoralizing blow for Wisconsin Democrats. Furthermore, it would a message to lawmakers all over America that taking on the public unions might not be the death sentence we all thought it might be.
— Christian Schneider is a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.