RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
In an unprecedented recall election that some political observers say is a preview for next year's presidential battle, Wisconsin voters did not turn over control of their state senate to Democrats. Democrats were looking to send packing three Republican state senators who had supported the highly controversial limits on the collective bargaining rights of public workers, limits that were pushed by Governor Scott Walker. Democrats managed to pick up only two out of the three seats, meaning Republicans stay in control of Wisconsin's senate. I'm joined now, from Madison, by Wisconsin Public Radio's Shawn Johnson. Good morning.
SHAWN JOHNSON: Good morning.
MONTAGNE: Now considering that this is August, really an off-time to hold an election, the turnout there was really high.
JOHNSON: Yeah, it approached gubernatorial levels, which is really high for a special election, and it was driven by the intense interest that everybody had in these issues this year, which was really born out of the collective bargaining bill at the Wisconsin state capitol earlier this winter, which brought tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands out to protest. That spilled into these largely Republican Senate districts and Democrats were able to pick up a couple, but unable to flip that third.
MONTAGNE: And the vote was what, close?
JOHNSON: They did well in one of the seats. Very close on the other seat that they flipped. And in that third seat, it ended up being about 2,000 votes, or about a four percentage point margin that ultimately decided who maintained control of the state senate.
So that must have been a disappointment for Democrats, and now they're in the hot seat because there's another recall to come next week, of Democrats.
Yeah, right now it's a 17 to 16 seat edge in the state Senate, but you've got the potential that Republicans could pick up one, maybe two more next week, and these are Democrats who are among the 14 who left Wisconsin in February to try to block the governor's collective bargaining bill.
MONTAGNE: So all of this is swirling around Governor Scott Walker. What affect are last night's results likely to have on a recall of the governor?
JOHNSON: Well, I mean there's two schools of thought on that. Democrats will tell you that they flipped two state Senate seats based on a bill that the governor introduced. That's never been done before and it shows that politics are certainly in flux in Wisconsin. The other school of thought is that Democrats wanted to flip the entire Senate and Republicans held their ground. It's hard to recall a governor in Wisconsin. You need enthusiasm, and if Republicans can tamp down that enthusiasm, Walker might be safe.
MONTAGNE: You know, we've heard a lot about the millions, tens of millions of dollars that were spent there in Wisconsin by outside groups, both on the left and the right, in these recalls. Is it clear that any of that spending made a difference?
JOHNSON: You know, this is a race where if you looked at polling, there were very few undecided voters. People know where they stand on the governor. People know where they stand on the collective bargaining issue and on the senators. And so if you broke it down in terms of price per vote on what these groups were spending on ads, it'd be phenomenal. And it's unclear whether that had a huge difference in the end. I mean, you ultimately had the most Republican leaning districts stay Republican in these races.
MONTAGNE: Shawn, thanks very much.
JOHNSON: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: That's Shawn Johnson of Wisconsin Public Radio. He joined us from Madison. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.