Wisconsin Democrat Lehman Likely Defeated Recalled State Senator

Democrats appeared to have assumed control of the state Senate with results posted early Wednesday showing former Sen. John Lehman (D-Racine) defeating incumbent Van Wanggaard in a tight race.
by | June 6, 2012

Lee Bergquist, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Democrats appeared to have assumed control of the state Senate with results posted early Wednesday showing former Sen. John Lehman (D-Racine) defeating incumbent Van Wanggaard in a tight race.

Republicans held on to three other state Senate seats in Tuesday's recall voting. Democratic challengers lost recalls bids against Sens. Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and Terry Moulton (R-Chippewa Falls.).

Rep. Jerry Petrowski (R-Stettin) was elected to fill the vacancy left by Sen. Pam Galloway (R-Wausau), who resigned earlier this year after opponents gathered enough signatures to initiate a recall election.

All eyes Wednesday will be on the 21st District. Results posted early Wednesday showed Lehman with 36,255 votes to 35,476 for Wanggaard with 100% of precincts reporting. The margin of 779 could bring a recount.

In a statement, Senate Democratic Leader Mark Miller said: "Tonight, Wisconsinites across the 21st Senate District elected a new State Senator. By electing a Democratic Senate, the people of Wisconsin have opened the door to responsible dialogue and if needed provide a bulwark against continued political extremism, and restored checks and balances to the Wisconsin Legislature. I look forward to working again with Senator-elect Lehman in the State Senate in the coming months."

Wanggaard's campaign manager Justin Phillips issued his own statement, hinting at a recount:

"We owe it to all of Senator Wanggaard's supporters and the voters of Wisconsin to thoroughly examine the election and its results and act accordingly once we have all of the information."

The results bring an end - for now - to recall elections of lawmakers after the November 2010 election of Gov. Scott Walker and the firestorm that followed. Tuesday's results follow a series of recall elections in 2011 when Democrats picked up two seats in recalls involving nine senators, cutting into the Republican's majority. The majority slipped to a tie after Galloway's resignation.

If Lehman's win holds, Democrats assume a 17-16 majority, at least until next November's elections. It's unknown whether the Senate will convene in a special session before then.

In November, 16 of the 33 Senate seats are up for election. Wanggaard's district - closely matched between Republicans and Democrats - covers much of Racine County. It's been one of the most volatile in recent Wisconsin history, flipping back and forth five times between the two parties in the last 22 years.

Incumbent senators have been re-elected only twice since 1990. Senators have been voted out of office four times.

Wanggaard and Lehman said the economy loomed above all else in the race. They touted their own legislative records while differing over whether Walker's policies were helping to turn things around. While the candidates talked about jobs, the race centered as much on Walker and Republican policies as the two men's respective records in the Senate. Lehman criticized Wanggaard for supporting cuts in spending for education. Wanggaard countered by saying Republicans have avoided deficits without raising taxes. He dismissed the recall as a "do-over."

Campaign statements filed on May 29 show that Wanggaard raised more than $100,000 over a four-week period and had $23,445 on hand. Lehman raised $70,468 for the period, spent $102, 217 and had cash on hand of $62,001.

Fitzgerald-Compas

In the matchup between Fitzgerald and Lori Compas of Fort Atkinson, Fitzgerald was often painted as a political behemoth running against an outmatched opponent.

Compas didn't get direct support from the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, but she got financial and organizational support of unions and money from ActBlue, a national online funding vehicle for the Democratic Party.

Compas lambasted Fitzgerald for Republicans' hardball tactics in 2011 and 2012, while Fitzgerald said Compas has been a longtime Democratic activist - not the political novice she paints herself.

Moulton-Dexter

In the race between Moulton and former Rep. Kristen Dexter of Eau Claire, Dexter said the economy and Republicans' cuts to education and limits on eligibility for BadgerCare, the state health program for the poor, were the big issues.

In one ad during the race, Moulton is shown at a public forum unable to name a single jobs bill he backed.

Moulton says it was a momentary lapse and shouldn't detract from pro-jobs legislation advanced by Republicans in 2011 and 2012. Also, he said that while Dexter served in the Assembly, lawmakers raised $5 billion in new taxes and Wisconsin lost 100,000 jobs.

Petrowski-Seidel

In the race between Petrowski and and Rep. Donna Seidel (D-Wausau), the complexion of the election changed after Galloway resigned. Galloway said she left office for personal, not political reasons.

The two legislators represent the respective Republican and Democratic strongholds in a district that covers a vast swath of north-central Wisconsin.

Both candidates took aim at the other over the economy.

Seidel said Walker's budget cuts have hurt the economy and Republicans' cuts to education will have long-term negative consequences.

Petrowski said Walker and Republican are turning the economy around, citing as evidence the controversial claim by Walker that employment has risen by 33,200 since he took office.

©2012 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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