A Wisconsin state senator will try to defend his seat Tuesday during a recall election that is giving voters the most direct opportunity yet to react to Republican Gov. Scott Walker's plan that stripped most public workers of their collective bargaining rights.
Nine state senators, both Republicans and Democrats, are facing recall elections amid the fallout from the bitter fight over Walker's proposal, which attracted national attention and tens of thousands of protesters to the state Capitol earlier this year. And the stakes are high: If Democrats pick up a net of three seats, they'll retake control of the state Senate and gain key momentum in their efforts to recall Walker next year.
The first test comes Tuesday, when Democratic Sen. Dave Hansen is challenged by Republican recall organizer and fellow Green Bay native David VanderLeest. The other two Democratic senators facing recalls will be tracking Republican primaries to find out who they'll face during their recall elections next month.
State election officials declined to predict voter turnout, saying there was no historical precedent for extraordinary elections in July. Temperatures were expected to be in the sweltering 90s across the state, but it's unclear whether that might keep voters from heading to the polls.
Six Republicans face recall elections Aug. 9 for supporting the collective-bargaining law, which eventually survived a court challenge after passing the GOP-controlled Legislature. The three Democrats are being targeted because they and other Democratic senators fled Wisconsin for three weeks to prevent a vote on the measure.
Hansen is the first of the nine to face a general election because his challenger faced no opposition from his own party, meaning there was no primary.
Hansen entered his race with a major cash advantage, raising $318,000 since April, while VanderLeest raised $2,000. VanderLeest also could be vulnerable because of a criminal record that included convictions in 2006 on two misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct.
VanderLeest has said the race should focus on the issues, and Hansen said he wasn't drawing attention to his opponent's run-ins with the law because he wanted to keep his campaign positive.
Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.