Republicans retained majority control of the Wisconsin Senate in a recall election that was spurred by Republican Gov. Scott Walker's agenda of cutting unionized state workers' rights.
Four GOP state senators fended off recall votes, while Democrats picked up two seats in the recall election. The final race ended close to midnight when State Sen. Alberta Darling retained her seat, defeating Democratic challenger Sandy Pasch. Unofficial numbers had Darling with 54 percent of the vote compared with 46 percent going to Pasch.
Three other Republicans held onto their seats: Sen. Rob Cowles of Allouez and Sen. Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls, and Luther Olsen of Ripon. All three defeated their Democratic challengers based on unofficial results on Tuesday, according to ABC affiliate WISN-TV in Milwaukee.
Despite her party's failure to win control of Wisconsin state Senate, State Senator Lena Taylor, a Democrat, said the fact that so many people signed petitions for the recall is what matters.
"If we win two we've doubled what has happened in the state's history for recalling state Senators. So this is I think huge," she said Wednesday. "The people are speaking. And the people are saying, if nothing else, hundreds of thousands of people in Wisconsin have said that they are completely frustrated with what they've seen."
Democrats were able to successfully recall Republican Sen. Dan Kapanke, with Democratic state Rep. Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse taking the seat. Early results had Shilling taking 55 percent of the vote compared with 45 percent for Kapanke.
Jessica King, 34, another Democrat, defeated Republican State Sen. Randy Hopper of Fond du Lac. With all precincts reporting, King led Hopper 51 percent to 49 percent.
Two Democratic incumbents face recalls next week, but even if Democrats win those they will still be in the minority.
The recall election also helps to determine whether the Republican party in Wisconsin, led by Walker, will regain momentum or has suffered a major setback since it swept into power in 2010. Both republicans and Democrats were testing messages ahead of the 2012 presidential race, in which Wisconsin is expected to be an important swing state.
Outside groups poured millions of dollars into the state for television advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts. Democrats' goal was to take three of the seats to gain control of the state Senate from the Republicans, and also set the stage for similar collective bargaining and budget fights in other states.
The recall effort began in January when Republican Gov. Scott Walker took office and Republicans gained control of the state legislature, putting forward a budget aimed at austerity and limiting the rising costs of public employee benefits by ending collective bargaining for all public workers except police and firefighters.
Democrats in the state legislature left the state to avoid voting on the measure, while thousands of protesters on both sides of the issue flooded the state capital to protest or support Walker's move. After Walker signed the legislation, Democrats began gathering signatures on petitions to recall specific senators who were eligible.
Republicans responded in kind, saying Democrats abandoned their duty. Enough signatures were gathered to target six Republicans and two Democrats.
The level of campaign spending has been unprecedented, especially considering it is a recall effort. Spending was estimated at about $28 million from outside groups on both sides of the aisle and about $5 million spent by the candidates themselves, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign officials estimated the spending between the two sides was even, but the group will do a full accounting of spending after the election and will have a clearer picture of whether the totals were even.
Both sides were so invested financially and on the ground because of the national message a victory on either side will send.
The Tea Party Express went on a nine-city, get-out-the-vote tour in Wisconsin that ended with a rally Monday night in the Green Bay area.
Tea Party Express chairwoman Amy Kremer was clear about the national fallout if the Republicans were not successful at keeping the state legislature. The movement has generated "excited crowds," she said, but a loss today would give Democrats the "courage" to wage similar efforts in other states.
"If these conservatives don't have the support to do the right thing in Wisconsin, then this will happen in states around the country," Kremer said. "In Wisconsin, the Republicans and Gov. Walker were able to balance the budget in such a short time, stimulate job growth, and put people back to work."
Kelly Steele, a spokesman for We are Wisconsin, a political action committee made up of labor, progressive and other liberal groups that are working to win the recall elections, said "enthusiasm here is as high as it's been" on their side.
He agreed that although their fight began with the protests after Walker moved to end collective bargaining rights for all public workers except police and firefighters, it has spread to other states.
"One thing Wisconsin indicates is when working families and communities are under attack, they will stand up and fight for the values they expect for their government, and their voices are going to be heard," Steele said, pointing out that all six Republicans won their seats in 2008 when Obama won the state by 14 points and that "none of these are easy districts."
Ross of Wispolitics.com agreed that although the fight was born out of Wisconsin issues, it is a "dry run" for both national Democrats and Republicans for 2012.
"Barack Obama can't win the presidency in 2011 without Wisconsin," Ross said of Wisconsin's having gone Democratic every presidential election since 1976, except for Reagan's victory in 1984.
"People are motivated and, in turn, a more friendly environment [in the state legislature] can go a ways for them," he said. "It's a dry run where they can micro-target voters, and get engaged ahead of next fall."
There are two more recall elections next week. Two Democratic senators are facing recall Aug. 16.