MADISON, Wisconsin — Voters tilted in favor of Republicans in Wisconsin recall elections that were closely watched for signs of a backlash against Tea Party conservatives in a presidential battleground state, results showed Wednesday.
Republican candidates successfully defended four seats in the Wisconsin state senate in Tuesday's elections, retaining control of the senate and holding Democratic gains to only two seats.
The final seat to fall to the Republicans was in a Milwaukee-area district where returns showed the Republican candidate, Alberta Darling, defeating Democratic rival, Sandy Pasch, 54 to 46 percent, according to Wisconsinvote.org.
The voting followed an intense campaign fueled by tens of millions of dollars and energized by a battle over deep budget cuts, layoffs of state workers and legislation to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights.
Democrats needed to win at least three of the six seats up for grabs in Tuesday's elections to wrest control of the senate from Republicans.
But John Hogan, executive director of the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, said the results were a big win for Republicans.
"Voters gave us a mandate last fall," he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "They backed us up again (Tuesday). Voters told us loud and clear, 'Stay the course. Things are working.' "
The contests were seen as a test of strength of Republican Governor Scott Walker and his Tea Party supporters and a preview of the battles ahead in next year's presidential elections.
Frustration with Tea Party ideals has been growing across the country.
A recent New York Times/CBS poll found that just 20 percent of Americans view the Tea Party favorably and 43 percent think they have too much influence in the Republican Party.
The US debt ceiling crisis has also soured opinions after members of the congressional Tea Party caucus insisted it would not raise the debt limit under any circumstances -- even as polls showed that the public wanted compromise.
Republicans currently control the governor's office, state house and have a 19-14 advantage in the state senate.
Even if they were to win a third seat, Democrats would still have to successfully defend two other seats they hold in a recall vote August 16 to secure control of the senate.
"We all know we're operating in uncharted territory here, completely unprecedented. It's an incredible thing to be a part of," said Mike Tate, chairman of the state Democratic Party.
Daily protests of as many as 100,000 people descended on Wisconsin's state capitol for much of February and March after Walker proposed a controversial bill that would strip most public workers of collective bargaining rights.
The protests intensified after Walker unveiled a budget with deep cuts to schools, state-subsidized health insurance and other critical services while cutting taxes for businesses.
The state's 14 Democratic senators fled Madison and went into hiding in order to prevent the legislative quorum necessary for the bill to be brought to a vote.
Republicans nevertheless passed the bill, using a legislative maneuver that a judge later ruled was unconstitutional.
Both Democrats and Republicans have gotten more engaged as a result of the intense political climate, said Joe Heim, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
"(Republicans) woke up a sleeping giant and energized a group of people that had not been ... particularly active in politics in recent years," Heim said.
There have only been 20 recorded state legislative recall elections since 1908. Wisconsin is holding nine recall elections in the space of a month.
"Wisconsin's a real battleground state," said Joshua Spivak, who writes the Recall Elections Blog. "It makes sense that it would happen in a state that has the possibility of going either way."