By Eric Boehm and Dustin Hurst | Wisconsin Reporter
RACINE – With one race yet to be decided late Tuesday night, Wisconsin Republicans are on the verge of a clean sweep in a series of high-profile recall election challenges brought by state Democrats.
Gov. Scott Walker became the first governor in American history to survive a recall effort — defeating Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett — and Republicans rode that wave to victories in at least three of the four state Senate races contested Tuesday. They will need to win all four to retain the majority in the legislature’s upper chamber.
In that fourth race, in the closely-watched 21st Senate District contest, state Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, appears positioned to hold off a recall challenge from Democrat John Lehman.
With 47 percent of precincts reporting, Wanggaard had 55 percent of the vote. Lehman has not yet conceded.
William McReynolds, a resident of Mount Pleasant and lifelong friend of Wanggaard’s, said he was cautiously optimistic about the outcome.
“Racine County has a history of following the top of the ticket,” he said. “With Walker winning, I’d say that means things look pretty good for Sen. Wanggaard.”
Wangggaard said he was waiting for the race to be called before making any public comments, but earlier in the night expressed confidence in a victory.
The Democrats’ best chance to steal the Senate majority was in the 21st, a true swing district that is anchored in Racine, a reliably Democratic city in southeast Wisconsin surrounded by rural and more conservative Racine County.
At 11 p.m. Lehman, a former state senator who Wanggaard ousted in 2010, eagerly awaited his results at the Labor Temple in Racine.
Lehman was hopeful he could be the only Democrat to flip a seat Tuesday night and seemingly relished the attention.
“One senator does make a difference in the senate majority and I look forward to being that senator,” Lehman said.
“We’re the only place in the state where people are still wondering what’s going on,” Lehman told a reporter here.
Speaking just after the Walker victory news rolled through the complex, Lehman sought to keep supporters looking forward.
“You just don’t know how these things are going to play out,” he said. “You just don’t know how these things are going to end.”
Even though most elections didn’t go as he desired, the former senator said the state needs to unite and come together after nearly 18 months of political chaos. When asked if it’s possible, he said, “I hope so. I think that’s what most of the citizens want.”
But after more than a year of effort aimed at booting Walker from the governor’s mansion and retaking control of the state Senate, Democrats were disappointed Tuesday.
Republicans also won the other two state Senate recall races and the special election held on Tuesday for a vacant state Senate seat.
In the 13th Senate District, state Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, won 60 percent of the vote to survive a challenge from Fort Atkinson Democrat Lori Compas.
In the 23rd Senate District, state Sen. Terry Moulton, R-Chippewa Falls, won 60 percent of the vote to defeat Democratic challenger Kristen Dexter, of Eau Claire.
In the 29th district, Republican state Rep. Jerry Petrowski, of Marathon, took 64 percent of the vote to defeat state Rep. Donna Seidel, D-Wausau, in a special election.
If Wanggaard holds on to win his race, the GOP will hold a tenuous 17-16 edge in the state Senate to go along with a much-more-comfortable 60-39 advantage in the state Assembly.
Kevin Wanggaard, the senator’s brother, said the margin was likely to get closer as results from Racine City came in.
“It’s going to be tight,” he said. “But hopefully it’s going to go the right way, just like the rest of the state.”
At Lehman’s camp, Barrett supporter and business owner Glenda from Racine, said she is “bitterly disappointed” and “surprised” that Walker to the race with much ease.
“I’m not sure why it turned out that way because we certainly had the momentum and the enthusiasm behind us,” she said. “I could’ve understood if it was a tighter margin. I cannot understand how it was so lopsided.”