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Dems take Wis. Senate after GOP incumbent concedes

Dems take Wis. Senate after GOP incumbent concedes

July 10th, 2012 by DINESH RAMDE, Associated Press in News

MILWAUKEE (AP) - Republican Wisconsin state Sen. Van Wanggaard decided not to go to court to challenge his recall election loss, effectively conceding the race Tuesday to his challenger and giving Democrats at least a temporary majority in the state Senate.

Wanggaard lost to Democrat John Lehman by 819 votes, or about 1.1 percent of the nearly 72,000 ballots cast. Wanggaard had demanded a recount, which affirmed his loss.

That left Wanggaard with two choices: File a challenge by Tuesday or concede the race. His campaign chose not to challenge, clearing the way for state election officials to certify the race Wednesday morning and make the outcome official.

"Despite pleas from around the state to challenge the election, it is not in the best interests of Racine, or Wisconsin, at this time," Wanggaard said in a statement. "Now is the time to focus on gaining the state senate back in November, winning Wisconsin's U.S. Senate seat and electing Gov. (Mitt) Romney as president."

Wanggaard also reaffirmed that he will challenge Lehman for the seat again when the term ends in 2014.

Lehman said he was "grateful" Wanggaard decided not to go to court.

"I'm just happy that we're not putting the citizens through that," he said.

The win hands Democrats their lone victory out of last month's six recall elections, and gives them a 17-16 edge in the state Senate.

However, their majority may be short-lived. Sixteen senators are up for elections in the fall, and those races will determine which party has control during the next two years. A new Republican-friendly legislative district map passed last year, combined with GOP victories in other recall elections, give Republicans reason to be confident heading into the November election.

Democrats organized the recall against Wanggaard, Gov. Scott Walker and four other Republicans as payback for supporting Walker's push to strip most public workers of nearly all their collective bargaining rights but came up empty in every race but Wanggaard's.

Lehman said he hadn't heard of plans to try to reconvene the Legislature before the end of the year in an attempt to move on measures while the Democrats hold the Senate majority.

The Senate would not be able to pass any bills unless the Republican-controlled Assembly also reconvened.

But Democratic Sen. Mark Miller, who will be the new Senate majority leader once Lehman is sworn into office within the next 10 days, suggested he would push for a special session to consider jobs legislation.

"Now that Sen. Wanggaard has conceded, we will be reaching out to Gov. Walker and the Assembly so we can get going on job creation for our state," Miller said in a statement.

Republican Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, who will become minority leader, said he would expect Democrats to come into session.

"They're in charge, they've got the majority," Fitzgerald said. "I'd be surprised if they didn't do anything."

Wanggaard had written an editorial in his hometown Racine newspaper last weekend outlining what he called a series of voting irregularities on the day of the June 5 recall election.

For example, he accused election officials of accepting improper proof of residence when registering voters at the polls. He also took issue with poll books that newly registered voters are asked to sign, alleging some books were missing dozens of pages or had incomplete information.

But Wanggaard said Tuesday that he decided against a legal challenge because a court battle would be expensive for taxpayers, and because city officials failed to cooperate with his requests for information about voting irregularities.

Wanggaard had five business days from the end of the recount to file a challenge. He called the timeframe insufficient to "fully investigate the mountains of evidence and answer the questions that have arisen."

Wanggaard's campaign manager, Justin Phillips, said Wanggaard did plan to write a letter to the Racine County district attorney, the state elections board and the state attorney general to raise complaints about ballot security.

The sheriff's department said it investigated a report that election materials were found in a garbage bin near a polling place. A report has been forwarded to the district attorney's office for review, said sheriff's Lt. Steven Sikora, who declined to say what the report said.

Associated Press writer Scott Bauer contributed to this report from Madison, Wis.