Tuesday’s recall elections didn’t give the Democratic Party the Senate majority, but it did maintain the narrow 17-16 lead the Republicans enjoy. Both Democratic incumbents – Sen. Bob Wirch (Pleasant Prairie) and Sen. Jim Holperin (Conover) – each won their respective 22nd and 12th districts by 10-point margins.

With 99 percent of the 22nd district wards reporting, Wirch had garnered 23,405 votes to Steitz’ 17,703.  The Associated Press called the 12th district race with 78 percent of the vote counted with Holperin receiving 23, 673 votes to Simac’s 20,066 votes.

Their Republican challengers – Jonathan Steitz in the 222nd district  and Kim Simac  in the 12th district – had campaigned that the incumbents should have been sent packing, since they left the state for Illinois during the budget repair bill debate.

However, it appears the voters in both districts decided that Wirch and Holperin should remain in their jobs.

Holperin was considered the weaker incumbent, having faced a recall in the early 1990′s as a state representative over Native American spearfishing rights. The 12th district has become more conservative in recent years with the increase in lake homes and property rights battles and that the district voted heavily for Walker and Justice David Prosser in the last two elections. Simac is the organizer of a Tea Party group in the area and relied on the momentum of the national movement.

But Holperin did well in traditional Democratic strongholds, including the two reservations in the district and in cities such as Rhinelander, Eagle River and Merrill.  Simac polled well in the more vacation-related areas, but when she carried Minocqua by only 115 votes, most pundits realized she was not going to finish the night well.

Wirch started out the evening behind, as the early returns came in from Burlington and Pleasant Prairie. But when the city of Kenosha turned in its poll results, Wirch jumped ahead and held on for the night. He said the result of the election has sent a message to the Republican Party.

“We have to get away from extremism and get back to compromise, I think that is the message of this election,” Wirch said following the announcement of his win.

He had campaigned on his record and history in the district – born and raised in the Kenosha area and working in one of the many, now-shuttered factories that made the city great. He faced a late campaign ad that challenged he had anything to do with packaging giant Uline moving its headquarters from Illinois to Pleasant Prairie, but it was too little, too late to stop the huge union and Democratic party get out the vote movement behind Wirch.

Steitz, a political newcomer, was a surprise having beaten former Kenosha County Fred Ekornas in the primary and was not expected to win. He campaigned on the party line of less taxes, less regulation and more business development, but he never went into details as to what he would specifically do for Kenosha and the surrounding area.

The turnout for the two elections was high, running similar voting percentages as last week’s Republican recalls. In  Minocqua, turnout was on pace for 2,100 voters, 200 shy of the turnout in the 2010 election. Lines were reported throughout the Kenosha districts all day, with a small hiccup in the early hours as poll workers failed to open polling places on time.

What does this election mean for politics in Wisconsin in the short term?  Not much. The Republicans still control the Senate (albeit with a slimmer margin), Assembly and governor’s mansion so the Walker agenda will move forward.  However, there may be more willingness on the part of Republican Senators to compromise after seeing their majority shaved to one vote.

I also don’t see these results or those from last week slowing the drive to recall Gov. Walker next year. While the Democrats didn’t meet their goal of turning the State Senate red, they did get six GOP Senators recalled and defeated two of them in the process.

So enjoy the pause in the attack ads and constant commercials on T.V. and radio for the next four months, because in January this whole circus will come back to town.

Photo on front page courtesy of ToBeRight blogspot. 

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