— Democrats failed late Tuesday in their effort to gain control of the Wisconsin state senate as Republican incumbents won four of six recall elections.
The outcome was a big setback for Democrats, organized labor, and progressive groups who'd sought retribution against six GOP allies of Gov. Scott Walker, who earlier this year enacted a labor law overhaul that ended collective bargaining rights for many public sector workers.
The recall elections attracted millions of dollars of investment from both liberals and conservatives across the nation.
Most at risk as voting started Tuesday appeared to be three Republicans, Alberta Darling, Randy Hopper and Dan Kapanke, all of whom had barely won their races in 2008.
Kapanke and Hopper lost, but
Darling won with 54 percent with most of the precincts counted, partly due to her outperforming her 2008 majority in heavily Republican Waukesha County.
Darling had won her district by a mere 1,007 out of more than 99,000 votes cast. Her district went narrowly for Barack Obama in 2008.
Three other Republican lawmakers also survived the Democratic recall effort: Sen. Robert Cowles, Sen. Sheila Harsdorf and Sen. Luther Olsen.
With the split in Wisconsin’s Senate at 19 Republicans and 14 Democrats as the day began, a turnover of three would have changed party control.
Next Tuesday there will be recall elections for two Democratic senators, one of whom barely won in 2008.
While there's a risk of extrapolating too much from the relatively small number of people who voted in Wisconsin Tuesday, the outcome may give an inkling about party motivation and organizing ability as strategists ponder the 2012 election in what could be a pivotal state.
Obama won the state in 2008 with 56 percent, but George W. Bush nearly won Wisconsin in 2004, falling short by only 11,000 votes out of nearly three million votes cast.
Obama's campaign manager Jim Messina has identified the state as one of the targets for 2012.
With the retirement of Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl, there's also an open U.S. Senate seat in Wisconsin next year.
The Cook Political Report rates that race as one of seven toss-ups in what are now Democratic-held Senate seats. Republicans need a net gain of four to win control of the U.S. Senate.
The Democrats had high hopes in June when the recall effort began heating up.
"We only need to elect three new state senators to stop Scott Walker's radical agenda permanently," said former Sen. Russ Feingold in a message to his supporters. "The next six weeks will prove to be not just a turning point here in Wisconsin, but across the entire country."
On Tuesday, before the results were known, Carolyn Fiddler, the communications director for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, said, "The recalls may result in the electorate feeling more empowered and excited, which may carry through to efforts to recall Gov. Walker, and even through the 2012 general elections."
"Success today and next Tuesday could also go a long way towards promoting fresh energy in state labor organizations," she said.