Dems pick up a seat; things look tough for Kapanke
Just a few months back, things looked pretty good for State Senator Dan Kapanke. Although he missed knocking off seven-term Democrat Ron Kind in the November general election for the 3rd U.S. Congressional District, he made a good showing. It was a free shot in the middle of his Senate term and with the Republicans taking the Senate, the Assembly and the Wisconsin Governor’s mansion, there were worse things than hanging with his old job.
But that was then and this is now.
Kapanke doesn’t look so safe anymore and he may well be the most likely to lose of the three Democrats and half dozen Republicans marching toward recalls. La Crosse County Board Chair Steve Doyle convincingly won a special election in the 94th Assembly District May 3 to give the Democrats a pickup of the seat formerly held by Assembly GOP leader Mike Huebsch since 1995. It’s also a third of Kapanke’s district.
Conservative Supreme Court Justice David Prosser will almost certainly retain his seat following a recount that is underway, but he didn’t win in Kapanke’s district. Kapanke himself has a tough and experienced opponent, 95th Assembly District Rep. Jennifer Schilling. (The only remaining GOP Assembly rep in Kapanke’s Senate District, Lee Nerison, was one of four Republicans in the Assembly to vote against Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union legislation — something that remains tied up in court.)
Whistling past the graveyard on election night, right-wing Milwaukee radio host Charlie Sykes said that, “as expected,” the Republicans took two out of three special elections to fill seats vacated by appointees to Walker’s cabinet. Sorry, Charlie, but that’s not the story. While it may be true as far as it goes, the net result was that the GOP lost a seat in the Assembly that they had held for a long time and only managed to successfully defend two in uncompetitive districts. They spent plenty trying to retain the 94th and came up on the short end of a spread that exceeded 7.7 percent. Sykes can call that “as expected,” if he wants to. I certainly expected it, too. But why blow hundreds of thousands of dollars on an election that you’re writing off anyway? The answer is simple and it’s that in spite of everything, they still thought that maybe they could win.
While it’s too early to tell what the overall outcome will be in a host of recalls that are now tentatively scheduled for July 12, Mr. Kapanke appears to be climbing a steep hill in a stiff headwind. He and Rep. Schilling will be voting and establishing a record in the runup based on the very same legislation and their votes will be starkly different. Kapanke won by less than a three-point spread in 2008 and every indicator seems to be that standing with Walker is likely to cost a lot more than that in his neck of the woods this year. (Just ask neighboring Sen. Dale Schultz, the only Republican senator to break ranks with his party on Walker’s so-called non-fiscal “budget repair” bill. He could become the most popular fellow in the Senate with his swing vote, if the GOP can only defend two out of three in the upcoming recalls.)
On election night, newly-elected Assembly Rep. Steve Doyle said that while going door to door, “I heard, over and over again, two words: Scott Walker.”