Wis. Dems say recall wins show governor vulnerable
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Wisconsin Democrats brushed aside their failure to seize control of the state Senate through recall elections, instead insisting Wednesday that voters rejected the Republican vision for the state and country and vowing to press on with their plan to recall Gov. Scott Walker.
The Democrats took control of just two of the six Republican-held Senate seats contested in Tuesday's elections, yet party officials said those two victories exposed the electorate's anger at Walker and Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin and elsewhere who have shown little interest in political compromise.
But as the party faithful turn their attention to delivering their potentially pivotal state to President Barack Obama in next year's election, they may find it hard to maintain the momentum that has fueled their recall efforts to date. Voters might balk at more of the political turmoil that's engulfed state politics and dominated the airwaves since Walker took office in January.
Walker wasted no time advancing his conservative agenda after becoming governor, and he refused to concede an inch on his signature law that stripped public workers of most collective bargaining rights, even after Senate Democrats fled the state to try to block its passage and angry protesters packed the Capitol for nearly a month.
He took a conciliatory tone, though, when asked about the recall election results, telling The Associated Press on Wednesday that he thinks voters want the two parties to cooperate more on creating jobs and improving the economy.
"People still want us to focus on those two priorities," Walker said. "They want us to work together."
Walker said he planned to meet soon with leaders from both parties to discuss areas where they could collaborate -- an idea met with skepticism from Assembly Democratic Minority Leader Peter Barca.
"It's bipartisan action, not bipartisan rhetoric that people are looking for," Barca said.
Barca said it's too early to tell where the Walker recall effort might go, saying the party would know more in a few weeks. Two Democratic state Senators face their own recall elections next week.
Other leading Democrats and liberal activists were more ebullient about Tuesday's results, saying the two Democratic wins showed Walker is weak and ripe for recall.
"Gov. Walker remains the most divisive elected official the state of Wisconsin has had and people remain outraged about what he has done to divide our state," said Scot Ross, director of the liberal muckraking group One Wisconsin Now.
Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate called the two wins a "stinging rebuke" of Walker and his agenda, and said the victories would add momentum to a recall campaign.
"If we can do all of this against entrenched Republicans on their turf, imagine our success ... when all of Wisconsin can have a voice on Gov. Walker's extreme and divisive agenda," Tate said. "Today we are not vanquished, we are energized."
If the Democrats do try to recall Walker, it won't be easy. Governors have only been recalled from office twice in U.S. history -- North Dakota voters removed Gov. Lynn J. Frazier in 1921 and Californians ousted Gov. Gray Davis in 2003.
Wisconsin law requires those seeking a recall to collect 540,208 signatures within 60 days starting no sooner than November. If those are collected, Democrats would have to come up with a candidate to challenge Walker.
Wisconsin Democratic Party activist Sachin Chheda said ideally, the recall election would coincide with the 2012 general election, when voters will flock to the polls to choose a president and a replacement for Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl, who is retiring.
But Reid Magney, a spokesman for the state's election oversight board, cautioned that several factors, including the time needed to check petition signatures and delays due to legal challenges, mean there is no guarantee the elections would coincide.
Kohl is mentioned as a possible candidate to run against Walker, should there be a recall, as are former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who Walker defeated in November.
Walker said he would "leave it up to the pundits to decide" what the recall elections meant for the efforts to unseat him, and that he thinks he'll ultimately be judged on whether he can fulfill his campaign promise to create 250,000 jobs in the state over four years.
But the recall elections were closely watched by officials in other states, and there was a hint of relief among some Republicans, who said the results showed the political environment hasn't changed much since 2010.
"The dynamic guiding the 2012 political environment is still, first and foremost, the state of the economy," said Republican strategist Kevin Madden. "That's not much of a change from the congressional midterms or the issues that sparked the Wisconsin showdown in the first place."
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who signed pension and benefits legislation in June that also raised worker contributions and curtailed collective bargaining, said he was happy for Walker, but didn't think the votes had national implications.
"Wisconsin is Wisconsin, and New Jersey is New Jersey," Christie said. "I don't see a lot of similarities between the two."
Christie noted that unlike in Wisconsin, where the overhaul was passed with exclusively Republican votes, New Jersey's overhaul required Republicans and Democrats to work together.
"That's what tells you it's a good plan," Christie said.
In Ohio, where voters will decide Nov. 8 whether to accept or reject a Republican-backed law signed in March that restricts bargaining rights for more than 350,000 public workers, supporters of the law, including a spokesman for Republican Gov. John Kasich, downplayed the Wisconsin results, saying they were focused on the issues affecting Ohio.
Following this week's elections, Republicans hold a razor thin 17-16 majority in the Senate, a position that puts moderate Republican lawmakers in a powerful position if it stands.
Associated Press writers Henry C. Jackson in Washington, Josh Lederman in Belmar, N.J., and Ann Sanner in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this story.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)