In February, Mr. Walker proposed a “budget repair bill” that would cut benefits to state workers and significantly diminish future collective bargaining rights for most public employees. The point, Mr. Walker said at the time, was to solve the state’s budget deficit. But the move set off a wave of anger, and protesters called for the removal of Republican lawmakers who had supported the idea, and began collecting thousands of signatures on recall petitions. Others demanded the removal of Democratic lawmakers who had fled the state for weeks as a procedural maneuver to delay a vote on the collective bargaining question, and began collecting thousands of signatures on other recall petitions. In March, with tensions flaring, Republicans used a procedural maneuver of their own to approve the collective bargaining measure with the Democrats still hidden in Illinois.
The recall campaigns have been battering, time-consuming, confusing (four separate elections have been set for July and August) and remarkably expensive. By one estimate, outside groups and the campaigns will have spent at least $35 million to recall senators, making some of the races the most expensive Wisconsin legislative campaigns in memory.
Until now, recalls of state lawmakers were rather rare here. Since such recalls were first permitted in 1926, only four such elections, which allow a new challenger to oppose an incumbent before a term’s end, had been held, and only two incumbents lost.
To some, the recalls had become not just a measure of control over legislation in Madison but a larger referendum on Republican takeovers of statehouses in 2010 and also a gauge of voters’ moods, at least in one battleground state, in the lead-up to the 2012 presidential election.
The campaigns have been fierce, personal, all-consuming. Campaign advertisements have run non-stop in several television markets, and accusations of untoward campaign methods have been exchanged on many fronts; as late as Tuesday night, some Democrats were raising questions about the fairness of the vote count in Ms. Darling’s district.
—A. G. Sulzberger contributed reporting from Kansas City, Mo., and Timothy Williams from New York.