Democrats announce recall election plans

CREATED Jun 12, 2011

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MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Wisconsin Democrats announced a plan Saturday to prevent Republicans from being able to manipulate the dates of upcoming recall elections.
Democrats plan to run what they call `placeholder' candidates in six races, thereby guaranteeing that a Democratic primary will be needed in each election and ensuring that the final general elections will be held on the same day.
"There are Democrats who offered to join the ballot to make sure all elections are held on the same day," said Gillian Morris, the press secretary of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. "That will make it easier for voters to know they're going to the polls on the right days."
The party also said it wouldn't run Democrats masquerading as Republicans in an effort to force GOP primaries.
A message left with the Republican Party of Wisconsin was not immediately returned.
Six Republican senators and three Democratic senators face recall elections this summer. But the election dates are still in flux depending on how many candidates run.
Here's how it would work. If only one Democrat runs for a seat currently held by a Republican, the Democratic challenger would face the Republican incumbent in a general election in July.
But if there's more than one Democratic challenger, those candidates would have to square off in a primary first to determine who represents the party in the general election. In that case the primary would be in July and the general election would be pushed back a month.
The state Republican Party has already said it wants Republicans to run as Democrats in the elections targeting GOP incumbents. That would force a primary election and give the Republican candidates four more weeks to prepare and raise money.
But Democrats worry that Republicans might run fake candidates in some races but not others. That would mean some races would have general elections in July and others in August, possibly confusing voters and allowing Republicans to focus their efforts on only a few races at a time.
By running "placeholder" Democratic candidates in all six races and guaranteeing six primaries, Democrats would deny Republicans any chance to cherry-pick which races had Democratic primaries and which didn't. It would also ensure that all six general elections would be on the same day, which would be Aug. 9.
The movement to remove the senators from office stems from the fight earlier this year over Republican Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to take away collective-bargaining rights from nearly all public employees. The Republicans voted for it and the Democrats fled to Illinois to block its passage.
The law is tied up in the courts and has yet to take effect.
The Government Accountability Board certified the recalls for the Democrats on Friday, giving candidates until June 21 to file with the board. The deadline for candidates running against the six Republicans is Tuesday.
The incumbents do not have to file to run and all of them plan on defending their seats.
Morris said Democrats had lined up "some" placeholders but not all six. She wouldn't say how many candidates they had.
Charles Franklin, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said he understood why Democrats would try a placeholder tactic but he didn't think it would have much effect on the overall elections.
"I think voters on both sides are sincerely energized by the issue before us, not these tactical maneuvers of what day the primary will be or whether you have two candidates or not," he said. "I think it shows that the parties are straining for a little advantage rather than focusing on the core issues that brought about these elections in the first place."
Democrats also said Saturday they won't run fake Republican candidates to force GOP primaries, even if the other party was doing the same.
"We never have done that, and won't start now," Democratic party chair Mike Tate said in a statement.
But isn't it disingenuous for Democrats to run placeholder candidates who wouldn't even try to win their primaries and who had no intention of actually serving in office?
"Considering what we've seen on other side, I think this is nowhere near that," Morris said. "This is ensuring the elections are held on a level playing field rather than manipulating the schedule."
Franklin noted that using placeholder candidates could come with a risk. If there's only one Republican candidate and several Democratic candidates, Republican voters could "cross over" and vote for the Democratic placeholder in large enough numbers that the Democratic plan could backfire.
He added that crossover voting generally requires so much coordination that it probably wasn't a serious risk in these cases.
"But the very possibility of it as a legitimate threat, it must worry the parties no matter what I think of its likelihood," he said.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)