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Two Wisconsin Democrats Win Recall Elections

Democrats in Wisconsin notched victories yesterday in the state's final two recall elections, races that marked the end of a turbulent, and highly unusual, summertime campaign season.

The wins by Democrats Robert Wirch and Jim Holperin left the party with a total net gain of two seats in the nine recall elections that have been staged across the state over the past month. That wasn't enough to secure control of the state Senate, where Republicans will hold a 17-16 advantage, down from 19-14 before the recalls.

Those elections drew nationwide interest from partisans who saw them as a test of public support for Republican Gov. Scott Walker's controversial policies, most notably a law he championed that limits collective bargaining for teachers and most other public employees.

The law provoked an angry response from many teachers, and from Democrats, who organized recall elections against six Republican incumbents who backed the law. The GOP sought to recall three Democratic officeholders who opposed the measure.

In a race for a seat along the Illinois border, Wirch defeated GOP candidate Jonathan Steitz, while Holperin, who represents a district in northern Wisconsin, turned back challenger Kim Simac.

The elections were fought on a highly compressed timetable. Democrats argued that the bargaining measure was rammed through the legislature with little public discussion and no effort at compromise. Republicans say the law will reduce costs for school districts and taxpayers.

"There are very few undecided voters," Holperin told me in an interview last month. "I run into very few people who don't have an opinion about collective bargaining, or anything else."

Democrats will presumably have more bargaining power, post-election, in the Senate, but Republicans will have the majority. The GOP also control the other chamber, the state's Assembly.

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