Control of the Wisconsin State Senate hangs in the balance today, as voters decide the fates of all six Republican recall targets. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, today's elections represent the largest single-day recall effort in US history. Senate Democrats -- who literally fled the state during this past winter's budget fix rumble -- need a net swing of three seats to capture the upper chamber. It's no secret that today could be a decisive moment for Scott Walker's agenda. If Democrats fail to regain the Senate, despite all of the publicity and unprecedented sums of money flowing into the state, Walker will have won yet another hard-fought triumph. A well-connected Wisconsin conservative tells me more than $30 million has poured into Wisconsin during this fight, and that Democrats have been the disproportionate beneficiaries: "It's two-to-one for the Lefties," he says. If Democrats manage to pull off this do-over election, however, the national party will seize on that development as a key indicator of leftward political momentum. More importantly, organized labor will be re-energized for future budget brawls. My Wisconsin source says, "the Left is highly engaged and energized -- more so than Republicans. This will be about turnout, and Democrats are very well organized this time around."
In spite of the money and enthusiasm disparities, several of the races are extremely close. DailyKos has released a battery of polls from four of the contested districts, collected over the last week. Wisconsin Policy Research Institute Senior Fellow Christian Schneider breaks down the numbers at NRO:
In the northwest portion of the state, Republican Sheila Harsdorf appears to have pulled ahead of her challenger, public school teacher Shelley Moore, by 12 points. Harsdorf, who hasn’t lost an election in 22 years, represents the fastest growing area in the state. In the westernmost area of the state, Republican Dan Kapanke appears to be trailing his Democratic challenger, state Rep. Jen Shilling, by ten points. This was the one seat Republicans have all but written off over the past few months.
Republican Luther Olsen, who was down by two points in the last PPP poll, is now up by one point. Olsen’s district is heavily Republican, yet he faces a strong challenge from sitting assemblyman Fred Clark. Perhaps the most surprising result is from a race I profiled on NRO last week, with Republican Randy Hopper now leading his challenger, Jessica King, by one point. Hopper was all but written off as dead by both parties following news of some marital problems — but the unions’ attempts to cash in on those personal issues may be causing a backlash in Hopper’s favor.
Schneider chatacterizes the sum total of this information as "good news for Republicans." The Badger State conservative operative I spoke to is more pessimistic. He thinks the best case scenario for the GOP, when all is said and done, is a net loss of one Senate seat -- and that the worst case scenario is a net loss of five. Yikes. On the Democrat side of the ledger, one of the fleebaggers comfortably survived her recall last week, thanks in large measure to an unforced error by Republicans in that district. Two more Democrats face electoral ejection one week from today. If Democrats win three of the six races tonight, the pressure to pick off at least one of the remaining recall-eligible Dems will be enormous. Remember, Democrats need a net gain of three seats, and this is a three-act play. If Republicans can limit Democratic gains to just two seats tonight, it's over. If not, an all-important rubber match awaits one week from today.
As indicate above, the PPP/DKos poll seems to hint at some late-breaking momentum for the GOP. We'll see if that trend materializes when the votes are tallied. Over the last several weeks, Wisconsin voters have endured a union-funded, anti-Republican blitzkrieg of television and radio advertising. Here's an example of an attack spot running against Republican Sheila Harsdorf:
Try to ignore, for a moment, the insipid class-warfare imagery of the affulent woman stealing cash from the community piggy bank. Focus instead on the claim that Republicans have voted for "devastating cuts" to public education. In fact, the opposite is true. Gov. Walker's collective bargaining reform law has helped close a gaping budget shortfall while saving thousands of middle class (and union) jobs -- all without raising taxes. It has offered school districts the flexibility to negotiate reasonable compensation and benefits packages with teachers, preventing mass layoffs, and it full of pleasant surprises for cash-strapped cities. The bottom line: Wisconsin is adding jobs under Scott Walker's leadership, and his budget fix bill is already bearing the fruit he predicted it would. As Wisconsin native John McCormack at the Weekly Standard muses, now we know "why unions are in such a rush to hold recall elections before voters see the benefits of Wisconsin's new law."
High stakes tonight, folks. I'm feeling skittish, but then again, I didn't feel any more sanguine about the last Wisconsin budget "referendum" election -- and we all remember how that contest ended, don't we?