Total Recall: Assessing each of the Wisconsin Senate Recall Races

Update:  Below I run through my thoughts on each of the recall elections.  Do you think differently?  Prove it!  Enter the Wisconsin State Senate Recall Election Pool.


Back in April, I analyzed the recall elections and put probabilities on which ones were most likely to swing to the other party.  Let’s take a look at how things have changed in the last 3 months.  A couple quick notes:  all the %s I give you that Walker and Prosser earned in the various districts were taken from Sean Trende’s wonderful article.  Also, all the odds of a successful recall occurring are simply my guesses.  What’s the fun in blogging if you can’t make wild predictions based on too little data? 🙂

July 19th

In addition to 2 GOP primaries, we have our first recall general election… Democrat Dave Hansen was one of those who I thought back in April might be vulnerable…. back then, I gave him a 30% chance of being ousted.  His district, which includes Green Bay and Marinette, is certainly territory where the Republicans should be able to do well…. it went 54% for Walker and 53% for Prosser.  Unfortunately, the Republicans were unable to come up with the ideal challenger… running against Hansen will be David VanderLeest, who carries some baggage that might make it hard for him to win.  Given the favorable demographics, it still wouldn’t be a complete shocker if Hansen lost.  But certainly, the Republicans have to be disappointed that one of their best opportunities for a takeover may go to waste.

Odds Hansen (D) will be recalled:  10%


August 9th

All 6 “real” Democrats survived their primary and will face off against 6 Republicans.  Let’s look at all these races one by one.

Perhaps the top target for the Democrats is Alberta Darling, who will face Sandy Pasch in the District 8 recall election. Some Republican were apparently worried that Darling might be at risk, because one of the major changes they made as part of the redistricting process was to make her district significantly more conservative.  Personally, I don’t think she was all that vulnerable in the first place.  District 8 went 54% for Walker and an amazing 66% for Prosser.  Furthermore, Pasch, who is very far left, is an inferior candidate to the more moderate Democrat that Darling defeated in 2008 (obviously a huge Democratic year).  If Darling can avoid any major gaffes, she should be fine here.

Odds Darling (R) will be recalled: 5%

Sheila Harsdof is another Republican that some have said was in danger, but I just don’t see it.  True, Prosser struggled in District 10, only getting 49% of the vote, but Harsdorf is very well liked in her district;  she won by 13 points in 2008.  Furthermore, her opponent, laid off teacher Shelly Moore, is rather weak; she did by far the worst of any of the Democratic candidates in the recall primary, managing just 54% of the vote against a Republican candidate who was thrown on the ballot at the last minute.  Like Darling, Harsdorf looks to be in fine shape.

Odds Harsdorf (R) will be recalled: 5%

Now let’s move on to a candidate who is in great danger.  Dan Kapanke represents the most liberal of any of the districts where recall elections are taking place.  His district, which includes La Crosse, went 50% for Walker, but just 42% for Prosser.  Kapanke is also facing a strong candidate in Assembly-woman Jennifer Shilling.  Shilling was the only one of the 6 challenging Democrats to receive over 70% in the primary, likely a sign that Democrats in this district are highly motivated.  Kapanke has won tough elections here in the past, so he shouldn’t be completely counted out, but things aren’t looking promising at this point.

Odds Kapanke (R) will be recalled: 80%

The most unpredictable recall election is probably the District 18 rematch between Randy Hopper and Jessica King, the former deputy mayor of Oshkosh.  Hopper defeated King by just 163 votes to win the Senate Seat in 2008, but a lot has changed since then.  Favorable to Hopper is that the district seems to be in a more conservative mood today- Walker won 57% here and Prosser won 53%.  But on the other hand, Hopper has been in the middle of a messy divorce, among other issues.  The enthusiasm in this race seems to be more on King’s side, though it really would not be much of a surprise to see it go either way.

Odds that Hopper (R) will be recalled: 60%

Robert Cowles has never faced a serious challenge for his Senate seat… he won by huge margins in both 2004 and 2008.  His challenger, former Brown county executive Nancy Nasbaum, does have some political experience.  But Walker won District 2 with 57% and Prosser did even better, winning 58%.  The fact that Prosser outperformed Walker here seems to be an indication that residents of this district generally support the actions of the Republican administration.  I’d be very surprised if Cowles didn’t win comfortably.

Odds that Cowles (R) will be recalled: 5%

Lastly, we have the district 14 contest between Luther Olsen and Fred Clark.  Here’s all that needs to be said:  the district leans right (57% for Walker, 55% for Prosser) and the challenger has already made at least one enormous gaffe.  Olsen should be in good shape.

Odds that Olsen will be recalled: 5%


August 16th

Now the Democrats opportunities for pickups are done and it is the Republicans have 2 more chances to try to recall Dem Senators.

Robert Wirch is in a very middle-of-the-road district (53% for Walker, 49% for Prosser), but has held on to his seat since 1997 (little known fact:  in 2004, Wirch defeated Reince Priebus).  Wirch’s opponent will be determined in the primary on Tuesday, but will probably be former Democrat and Kenosha sheriff Fred Ekornaas.  That would be a very intriguing race that could go either way, though given Wirch’s success in the district, I think he’d have to be considered the favorite.  The other interesting dynamic here is that the Republican’s redistricting plan will make this district much more left-leaning.  So even if the Republicans pick up this seat, it will likely be very difficult to keep.

Odds Robert Wirch (D) will be recalled: 30%

Finally, we come to the Republicans best chance for a pickup, Jim Holperin’s seat in District 12.  This is a district in northeastern Wisconsin and is quite right-leaning…. Walker won 57% and Prosser won 55% in this district.  It looks like tea party candidate Kim Simac will probably win the primary.  Simac so far has been a strong campaigner, but has little political experience.  Holperin’s best chance will probably be to try to make the election about Simac and paint her has being too far to the right and/or hope her inexperience leads to unforced gaffes.  It is too early to say if that approach will prove to be effective.

Odds Holperin (D) will be recalled: 50%



So on the balance, my view is the Democrats are likely to win 2 recall elections but almost certainly no more than that.  The Republicans have a couple decent chances to get 1 of those seats back.  If you put a gun to my head, I would guess that the only successful recalls will be for the seats currently held by Kapanke (R), Hopper (R), and Holperin (D).  So after all of this struggle, the Democrats pick up a grand total of 1 seat.


  1. The Lorax says:

    You think Dave Hansen has a bigger chance of losing the Darling? Are you kidding! A poll just came out with Pasch in the lead. Wild guess is right.

  2. Nice link to that poll. And I heard they were tied. Besides, as I said in the post, even if Darling loses it’s only temporary for the district. Pasch will be out of a job unless she wants to go against the incumbent in the new district. It won’t change a thing.

  3. The Lorax says:

    All of your 5% predictions are very low. Here’s how I see things:

    Hansen: 5%
    Darling: 50%
    Harsdorf: 45%
    Kapanke: 90%
    Hopper: 65%
    Cowles: 40%
    Olson: 30%
    Wirch: 20%
    Holperin: 40%

  4. The Lorax says:

    I didn’t say Pasch WOULD win. I said 5% seems incredibly low. Even in my prediction above Darling has 50% chance of keeping her seat. I’m a strong partisan, just trying to put an honest prediction out there. 5% is silly.

  5. “Honest prediction?” Really? Cowles has the same shot as Holperin of losing and you think you are being honest? Sorry, but that’s just nuts. I spend a lot of time in Hansen’s district, and I doubt he’ll lose, but it is at least a 10% chance. Hansen is certainly not taking any chances with the way he is beating up on his opponent, but you really don’t see a lot of “Hansen for Senate” signs driving around. I know that signs don’t vote, but they do give a decent idea of motivated voters and I think a lot of Hansen supporters are taking this one for granted.

    I think Ryan is right on with his predictions, but it all comes down to turn out, and when it comes right down to it no one knows how this is going to work. Most people will be enjoying the last days of summer, not thinking about unnecessary recalls – and, yes, all of them are.

  6. Ryan Morgan says:


    Hansen probably would have lost if he had to face a strong challenger. He’s very lucky, but it is still a tough district for him. I’m in the same camp as Mike…. doubt Hansen will lose, but it is certainly possible.

    Wasn’t the poll that had Pasch winning done by the Pasch campaign? What are they going to say? Here’s the bottom line: Darling’s district is not going to go from 66% to Prosser to electing Pasch.

    This may seem obvious, but I think when we are looking back at the recall results, we will find that best single indicator of how these recalls will go is how their district voted for Prosser, for 2 reasons. 1) Because that is the only vote that took place after the collective bargaining bill/fleeing the state that sparked the recalls and 2) Because it is a good proxy of how motivated people in that district are to turn out in an off-cycle election. By that measure, Darling looks incredibly safe and Hansen looks iffy.

  7. I’m guessing it’s going to go down to the wire. I think Darling and Harsdorf are much more vulnerable than Ryan is guessing. The GOP missed a chance by not getting enough signatures for a real candidate against Hansen. On top of that, it’s a general election competing against two primaries for attention so perhaps some people won’t realize it’s a general election.

    I’m guessing that the total odds of a Senate flip are 50%. Kapanke is toast, Darling and Harsdorf are probably 40-50% chances each (of losing), and I think we might get one or two surprises out of the other races (that could go either way). The Left is already counting this as a victory and has moved on to “exporting Wisconsin to the rest of the country.”

    The good news is that most of Walker’s agenda was already passed, and Democrats can’t do that much as the party of No. I think the Left is overstating the odds of recalling Walker, if nothing more based on the sheer number of signatures they’ll need. On top of that, it would be late next winter before an actual recall election, and by that time, the focus may be on the presidential race, which if anything would get GOP voters more interested since there isn’t much going on in terms of the Democratic primary for president.

  8. I’m really glad I made this post…. it is interesting to see the diversity of opinion. Also, it gives me a great idea that I will soon post on this blog…. stay tuned.

  9. William says:

    It won’t be next winter it will be this winter January or February. Most people don’t care about the Presidential election until at least September. Junkies care, but Joe Six Pack doesn’t. I agree that getting the signatures for a Walker recall is unlikely, but it would be fun if it happened. As for the recalls. I think all the dems survive, Kapanke and Hopper go down, with Harsdorf and to a lesser extent Darling possible, but not likely. The Dems got VERY lucky that Hansen didn’t have a better opponent.

  10. It’s going to be very hard for democrats to make a case that government employees deserve higher pay and benefits then the rest of Wisconsin voters. even if the democrats manage to take control of the Wisconsin senate the pay cuts for state employees will remain in place, were seeing the same cuts in democratic controlled states were the liberal media is unwilling to cause a ruckus.


    Wisconsin Recall Election Projections

    Aug. 4, 2011

    Richard Charnin

    The Democrats need to win 3 of 6 GOP seats in the recall elections to gain control of the Wisconsin senate.

    Assuming the Wisconsin 2008 presidential election
    1) Recorded vote shares and election fraud (expected) in the recall elections, the Democrats will win 1 or 2 GOP seats.
    2) Recorded vote shares and zero election fraud in the recalls, the Democrats will likely win 3 GOP seats.
    3) True Vote shares and zero fraud in the recalls, the Democrats would likely win 6 GOP seats.

    The Wisconsin Recall Projection Model is based on the following assumptions for each of the 6 GOP districts:
    1. 2008 Presidential Election recorded vote
    2. Estimated 2008 Fraud Factor (i.e. reduction in Obama’s True District vote share)
    3. Obama voter turnout rate in recall
    4. McCain voter turnout rate in recall
    5. Democratic share of returning Obama voters
    6. Democratic share of returning McCain voters

    For the selected district, two sensitivity analysis tables display nine Democratic vote share scenarios based on
    1) Democratic vote shares of returning Obama and McCain voters
    2) Obama and McCain turnout rates

    Base Case Assumptions
    1 Equal 63% Turnout of Obama and McCain voters
    2 Democratic 91% share of Obama voters
    3 Democratic 5% share of McCain voters

    Case 1: Assuming the 2008 Recorded Presidential Vote and Zero fraud in the 6 Recall elections
    Projection: Democrats win 3 recall elections

    Case 2: Assuming the 2008 True Vote (Obama’s True Vote was 1.5% higher than recorded) and Zero fraud in the Recall elections
    Projection: Democrats win 6 recall elections

    Assuming the 2008 recorded vote and the recall elections are fraudulent, the Democrats will win 1 or 2 elections.

    Recall Election Fraud Scenarios
    1) Obama’s Wisconsin True Vote was 1% higher than recorded
    2) Equal Obama/McCain percentage turnout in the recall elections
    3) Democrats win 92% of Obama voters and 5% of McCain voters
    The GOP needs to switch 2% of Democratic votes to retain senate control
    Assuming the Democrats win 94% of returning Obama voters, the GOP would need to switch 3%.

  12. Be sure to read Wis Dem memo “Victory predicitons dangerous” from Politico.

  13. The Lorax says:

    It’s anybody’s game. We can posture and predict–and of course my prediction favors the Democrats. But it’s all about turnout. That said, I think Dems have a superior turnout strategy.

  14. BrkfldDad says:

    Does that superior turnout strategy include ribs? 🙂

  15. The Lorax says:

    I’m a vegetarian; I know nothing about ribs. 😀

  16. Go read Randy Melchert. I liked his comment:

    “I’ll go 5/6 GOP hold. Late momentum is gold – and the data seems to be showing a late move by the ticket splitting prognosticators – that will be big for Hopper/Olsen. I’ll move Hopper to lean Red for a thin win by GOP.”

    From Caffienated Politics:

    “Flipping the state senate was a bold idea, but in my estimation it will not happen this summer. ”

    From Blaska:

    “If my original and still champion prediction is correct, Republicans will retain an 18-15 advantage in the Senate (it’s now 19-14). That means a reported $35 million was flushed down the commode to reconfirm what the voters told us last November. “

  17. Blaska, the voters did not confirm your prediction, the rigged voting machines did.

  18. Wandering Badger says:

    ex-pat, now out west but was in Mad City a couple times this spring. Original predictions turned out pretty good so far. My guess is next week’s recalls are a split. Congratulations – pretty honest assessments. The Mad City loons are over reaching, coupled with the tone-def Reid-Pelosi-Obama troika, it spells the end of the Democrat Party as it currently exists (JFK, Tip O’Neil (sp), FDR etc should rise up and haunt the venom spewing current leadership).