-By Georgia Pabst
August 16, 2011- Longtime Democratic legislator Robert Wirch beat back a challenge from Republican political newcomer Jonathan Steitz in Tuesday's recall election in Senate District 22 in the Kenosha County area.
Wirch, 67, was one of the 14 Senate Democrats who left the state last winter during Gov. Scott Walker's budget-repair bill battle that eliminated most collective bargaining for public employees.
The move led to recall efforts of Wirch and two other Democratic senators. He's been in the Senate since 1996 and was in the Assembly before that.
Soon after the race was declared Tuesday for Wirch, Democrats issued this statement from him:
"I am proud to continue to represent the people of the Kenosha region.
"The future of Wisconsin depends on the strength of our working, middle class families and I look forward to returning to Madison with two new Democratic Senators to enact a moderate, Wisconsin agenda that supports them."
Last week, Wirch said he'd try to bring moderation and compromise back to Madison.
Steitz, 37, a corporate lawyer, was recruited by Republicans working on the recalls. He was highly critical of Wirch for leaving the state.
He also campaigned on the theme that it's time for a new vision and new strategies to bring jobs and a better economy to the area.
Wirch criticized Steitz as a "corporate lawyer" who would put corporate interests first, while Wirch said he had "a proven record" of standing up for the working and middle class.
Tuesday night, his campaign spokesman, Dan Hunt, said, "This was a tough race," adding, "We ran a great campaign.
"We obviously caused Sen. Wirch to have to run a tough campaign himself," Hunt said.