Wisconsin state Sen. Dan Kapanke is the most vulnerable of the GOP legislators facing recall elections.
Though Yogi Berra is most often associated with the phrase “it ain’t over till it’s over,” it is Republicans in Wisconsin who are now uttering the phrase, hoping that their party can limit its losses to only a seat or two in next week’s state Senate recall elections.
Following the GOP-controlled Legislature’s passage of a bill limiting public employee’s collective bargaining rights, Democrats are targeting six Senate Republicans for recall. If they win even half, Democrats will turn a 19-14 seat disadvantage in the chamber into a 17-16 seat majority. Republicans also control the state Assembly.
The recall contests have turned into a referendum on Gov. Scott Walker (R), who isn’t subject to recall until he has served at least a year in office. Insiders acknowledge that voters on both sides of the aisle show a high level of interest in the elections, and partisan lines have been sharply drawn in the contests.
Independent voters appear to hold the key in many races, but both Republican and Democratic strategists agree that turnout is both uncertain and a crucial factor in many of the contests.
Of the six Republican state Senators facing recalls, Dan Kapanke looks to have the most uphill road to victory in his race against state Rep. Jennifer Shilling (D). A seven-year-veteran of the state Senate, Kapanke lost a tight (50 percent to 47 percent) race for Congress last year to Rep. Ron Kind (D), for whom Shilling once worked as a Congressional aide.
But the 63-year-old Republican represents very Democratic turf — and a district that went 62 percent for President Barack Obama in 2008. Given that, all Democratic operatives need to do to defeat Kapanke is to turn out Democratic voters who want to send a message of disapproval to Walker.
If they oust Kapanke, Democrats would need to win two of the next three closest contests, which feature Republican state Sens. Randy Hopper, Luther Olsen and Alberta Darling.
If the controversial Walker isn’t enough of a problem for Hopper, the legislator’s messy public life is an obvious liability. Hopper apparently has been living outside his district with his mistress, and his wife said she would sign his recall petition.
Hopper barely won election in 2008 by 163 votes out of more than 83,000 votes cast, a margin of less than two-tenths of a point. His opponent in the recall is Oshkosh Deputy Mayor Jessica King, the same woman he narrowly defeated in 2008.
Given Hopper’s personal problems and the closeness of his last race, the Republican Senator is in a very difficult position.
If both Kapanke and Hooper lose, control of the Senate would rest on Democratic challenges to GOP incumbents Olsen and Darling.