By Alissa Smith
MADISON — With two weeks remaining before the next installment of Wisconsin’s recall elections, the nastiness is hitting a fever pitch in wave after wave of campaign attack ads — most of which are funded by special-interest groups.
Meanwhile, candidates are scurrying to cover ground in fast-moving races.
The next round of recall elections — six sitting Republican senators looking to stave off ousting by Democratic challengers — is set for Aug. 9.
Despite the urgency driven by the short campaign calendar, the candidates and their parties told Wisconsin Reporter that they are playing these elections like they would any other by going door to door and making phone calls.
The problem, according to campaigns, is timing.
Gillian Morris, press secretary for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said that for this election, it’s more important to press the election date.
“Folks aren’t used to campaigns and voting in the middle of summer,” Morris said.
Incumbent state Sen. Luther Olsen
, R-Ripon, is battling what his campaign asserts are Democratic distortions in an ad campaign, attacking his votes on the budget, which his opponents charge closed a school in his district and hurt education at large.
Olsen campaign manager Jeff Weigand said Olsen has the most important weapon on his side: The truth.
“The truth comes out, even if you don’t have that much money. If we can run one radio or TV ad that is the truth, I think it will outrun the 10 radio or TV ads that they put out,” Weigand said.
Weigand said Olsen’s campaign never had much money. His District 14 campaign raised — at last reporting — $107,111, on July 5, compared with opponent Rep. Fred Clark
, D-Baraboo, who raised $226,501, as of July 8.
The Olsen camp has saved much of its campaign cash for the final three weeks before the election, Weigand said.
“Ultimately I don’t think that money is going to persuade people,” Weigand said. “People elected Olsen to do a job, and he’s done it.”
Clark has his own negative advertisements to battle, particularly an ad capturing Clark’s 2009 collision that injured a pedestrian. The commercial, drawn from crash-scene videotape, paints Clark as a dangerous driver and questions his judgment.
Clark’s campaign office did not return calls for comment.
Jennifer Harrington, campaign manager for incumbent state Sen. Dan Kapanke
, R-La Crosse, said she hasn’t seen the kind of personal attack advertisements in District 32 as other districts.
“We’re seeing a lot of outside special-interest spending,” Harrington said. “We’re surprised by the amount.”
Kapanke’s opponent Rep. Jennifer Shilling
, D-La Crosse, has used her advertisements to attack Kapanke on the merits of his policy, Harrington said.
Spokesman for Shilling, Matt Ullsvik, said her campaign is focused on talking to the voters and making sure the issues important to them are discussed.
We Are Wisconsin did not return calls for comment.
Republicans are beginning to catch up in the cash chase. Club for Growth Wisconsin, a conservative, pro-business PAC, reported raising $1.5 million as of Tuesday. The money is targeted for Republicans looking to punch back at the attack ads.
Negative campaigning certainly isn’t anything new, but the proliferation may be startling, said Matt Capristo, spokesman for the campaign of Kim Simac
, Republican challenger to state Sen. Jim Holperin
“People are sick of the negative ads on both sides to be fair,” Capristo said. “The negative attacks aren’t about the issues; these are personal attacks.”
He attributes most of the ads to We Are Wisconsin.
“Our strategy moving forward is that we are going to the voters ourselves, so Kim will be going out to meet the voters herself,” Capristo said.
The candidates, vying to represent the residents of Wisconsin’s 12th Senate District are set to debate on Aug. 9, one week before the election, one of three in the final round of recall elections.
In a statement released Tuesday
, Holperin said, “If we want the privilege of representing this area in Madison, we owe it to voters to respond to what’s on their minds in an open, give-and-take forum.”
Simac and Holperin are not the only candidates preparing to debate. Shelly Moore
, a school teacher and Democrat, and incumbent state Sen. Sheila Harsdorf
, R-River Falls, have scheduled four debates — the first of which took place Monday and was filmed by the Hudson Patch
. The next debate is scheduled for Thursday in River Falls.
Spokesman for Harsdorf, Nate Duerkop, said both parties had agreed upon the three debates in May.
“Moore’s campaign contacted us,” Duerkop said. But the debates were delayed until after the state budget and the primaries were completed.
Wisconsin Reporter was unable reach Moore’s campaign.
But Harsdorf also needs to be concerned about the advertising. Around half a million dollars has been spent in television ads against the incumbent senator, said Duerkop.
“The outside special interest groups have gotten involved, and that seems to be where they want their money spent,” Duerkop said. “We didn’t have the money to respond to the ads being run against us until just recently.”
Katie McCallum, communications director for the Republican Party of Wisconsin, said there has been a definite influx of union — national union — money into the Democratic coffers, while money for Republican candidates is coming from “people who were interested in seeing the governor’s job creation move forward.”
The first round of general elections for the remaining state senators up for recall is Aug. 9. The candidates are:
District 10: School teacher Shelly Moore, of River Falls, will meet incumbent state Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls.
District 14: State Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, will face incumbent state Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon.
District 32: State Rep. Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, will face incumbent state Sen. Dan Kapanke, R- La Crosse.