-by Steve Contorno
July 19, 2011- One down, eight to go.
The summer of recalls had its first definitive outcome Tuesday night when Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, handily defeated Republican David VanderLeest with 66 percent of the vote.
Hansen’s victory over a controversial candidate wasn’t a shocker. VanderLeest’s legal and financial troubles became the focus of his campaign, dragging down his bid even after he vowed not to discuss them anymore.
But the margin of victory and the turnout by voters were a first-round demonstration of the Democratic Party’s ground game going into August, when six Republicans and two more Democrats face recall elections with control of state government hanging in the balance. If Democrats can net three seats, they will win back the Senate and provide a check to Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s virtually unchallenged agenda. Republicans are fighting to guarantee control of the state through 2012.
“We win here big and move it forward to the next eight races. It’s only the beginning,” Hansen said at the Riverside Ballroom in Green Bay as a raucous crowd cheered loudly, echoing chants heard during Madison protests earlier this year.
Recall committees targeting Democrats first materialized in February after Senate Democrats left the state in a failed attempt to block a vote on Walker’s bill to end collective bargaining powers for most public employees. Similar groups organized against Senate Republicans formed shortly after they voted in favor of the legislation.
Democrats are hoping to build off the momentum from Hansen’s race heading into the next elections. There’s little doubt the stakes are high.
“Obviously, we are preparing for what will be the largest get-out-of-the-vote operation since Barack Obama was elected,” said Mike Tate, chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.
“We live in a state where both bases are very, very engaged and energized.”