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Wisconsin Republicans Repel Democrats, Retain State Senate Control

Wisconsin state capitol, March 2011.
Justin Sullivan
Getty Images
Wisconsin state capitol, March 2011.

It was certainly closer than Wisconsin's Republicans would have preferred, but in the end they successfully repelled Democrats who sought to wrest away control of the state Senate and break GOP dominance over the Badger State's government.

Democrats fell one Senate seat short of the three they needed to take over that chamber in the state's largest recall election ever in which six seats were contested.

The election drew not just national but international attention as Wisconsin became an important flashpoint in a partisan war that pitted not just Republicans against Democrats but corporate interests against organized labor.

At least $30 million was spent by special-interest groups on both sides of the fight with significant sums coming from outside the state.

Befitting the importance that was placed on the recall election, Tuesday saw Wisconsin voters stream to polling places in numbers normally seen in statewide races for governor.

Keeping control, if only by one seat, was a victory for Gov. Scott Walker, Wisconsin's controversial Republican governor. Walker, with his GOP allies in the legislature enacted controversial laws that reduced the power of public-employee unions in the state. Republicans said the measures were needed to reduce the state's large fiscal deficit.

For the state's Democratic lawmakers and their organized labor supporters, Tuesday's results were just the latest setback.

Earlier in the year, state senate Democrats fled Wisconsin in an ultimately failed effort to stop the anti-union laws from being passed.

Then Wisconsin Democrats lost a court challenge to the new anti-union legislation They also lost an effort to unseat a Republican on the state Supreme Court.

Now it's Democrats who will be on the defensive. Next week two Democratic senators face a recall election and Republicans are likely to be feeling even more feistier now that they have withstood the best shot Democrats could throw at them.

Democrats claimed a moral victory Tuesday by saying the two seats they managed to pick up were normally Republican seats.

But, again, any pleasure Democrats could take from gaining those two seats was tempered by the Republican governor signing into law on Tuesday, just hours before Wisconsin's polls closed, redistricting legislation that should redraw legislative lines to make it easier for Republicans to not only keep but expand their legislative majorities next year.

Walker himself faces a recall election in 2012. The battle leading up to Tuesday's election as well as the results were just a foretaste of that coming fight.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.