MADISON, Wis. - Less than two weeks after recall campaigns against eight Wisconsin GOP state senators got under way, union members and their allies have already collected half the signatures they need. The campaign is part of the continuing battle to stop the Republican attack on union rights, which triggered the largest demonstrations in Wisconsin history.
As of March 15, Democratic Party officials here report that they have in hand more than 56,000 of the approximately 110,000 required signatures. That's a big jump from the 14,000 they had a week earlier.
It puts Democrats, unions and their allies ahead of schedule in their unprecedented drive to recall the eight Republican state senators who backed Gov. Scott Walker's drive to destroy collective bargaining rights for public workers.
In each targeted district, the activists have 60 days from the first filing date to collect a number of signatures equivalent to 25 percent of the total votes cast in that district during the last gubernatorial election. The filings were done at the state courthouse here during the opening days of March as thousands were rallying across the street at the state Capitol.
With the level of enthusiasm shown by protesters since then, including a mass march of 150,000 here last Saturday, no one is surprised that, with three-fourths of the required time remaining, more than half the necessary signatures have already been collected.
According to Wisconsin Democratic spokesman Graeme Zielinski, the signature-gathering is ahead of pace in every one of the eight districts being targeted.
While the momentum behind the union-backed recall effort is building, Republicans refuse to discuss the progress of their efforts to recall Democratic senators who fled the state to delay the governor's attack on union rights.
Calls to Republican Party offices here and to the offices of the GOP state senators, asking about the progress of GOP recall efforts against Democrats, are not being returned. There have been no large public demonstrations or other events supportive of the governor or his attack on collective bargaining rights. Tea party efforts at the state Capitol paled in comparison to those mounted by working people and their allies.
More upsetting to Republicans than calls from journalists, however, are new poll results today that show the GOP in danger of losing control of the Wisconsin state Senate as a result of the recalls.
The poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling last weekend, surveyed 2,000 to 3,000 people in each of the targeted districts.
Three of the Republican state senators (Luther Olsen, Randy Hopper and Dan Kapanke) would lose to a "generic Democratic" opponent, according to the poll. Two other Republicans (Rob Cowles and Sheila Harsdorf) narrowly led the generic opponent but had well under 50 percent support
Two Republican state senators, Mary Lazich and Glenn Grothman, are in very red districts where opponents face more of an uphill battle.
Thus recall supporters appear to have a good chance in five or six of the eight districts they are targeting. Success in only three would end Republican control of the state Senate.
Actual candidates will have to emerge against the Republican senators. This is unlike the 2003 recall election against California Gov. Gray Davis, which did not require an alternate candidate. (Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected California governor to replace Davis by less than a majority in a separate vote.) In California, putting the recall on the ballot required signatures from 12 percent of the number who voted previously for governor
Removing an incumbent is more difficult in Wisconsin. Twenty-five percent of the number who voted for governor last time must sign the recall petitions and, when recall efforts succeed, candidates must be placed on the ballot to run against the person being recalled. Disputes about who should run could result in primaries.
Photo: In the crowd at the state Capitol, Madison, Wis., March 12. (People's World)