Wisconsin voters go to the polls today in several state-Senate districts in today’s recall elections.  They’re having to tramp to the polls in the dog days of summer because the unions wanted to refight the midterm elections all over again — and to set up the 2012 elections as well, Politico notes:

The results of the state Senate match-ups will have a significant impact in Madison: If Democrats can pick off at least three of the six seats, they can capture control of the state’s upper chamber, placing a formidable obstacle in GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s path. A successful night would enable them to point to their victories as unequivocal repudiation of the governor’s ambitious conservative agenda and also create momentum for the next step—an attempted 2012 recall of Walker.

Yet the ripples from Tuesday’s election will reach well beyond Wisconsin’s borders. Successfully recalling even half of the six senators who voted with Walker would invigorate the liberal base both within the key battleground state and outside it just as the 2012 presidential campaign begins to heat up. It would also send a powerful message to Republicans about the risks of a head-on confrontation with labor. For the GOP, a successful defense of the seats would serve as a validation of their bold statehouse agenda in the aftermath of the 2010 elections.

While it was backlash from Walker’s successful attempt to curtail collective bargaining rights for public employees that forced the GOP state legislators onto the ballot in the dog days of August, that legislation is no longer the single flashpoint here. National interest groups on both sides of the ideological divide are using Wisconsin as a test case for issues ranging from taxes and spending to the looming entitlement crisis.

Strange things can happen in special elections.  Generally speaking, the victory usually goes to the side with the largest organization, although as the election between David Prosser and Joann Kloppenburg proved in April, that’s not always the case.  Unions have that advantage, and while the debate focused solely on the bargaining-rights reform for PEUs, they had the passion and the momentum, too.

Having the terms of the election broadened doesn’t do Democrats or unions much good.  The fight today now mainly reflects the same debate Wisconsin voters had just before they booted Democrats from control of the state government.  Its prior focus on the supposedly radical nature of the new Governor left Democrats vulnerable to stories about his success, such as last night’s news about the millions of dollars Scott Walker’s law will save Milwaukee.  Nationalizing the election will have voters looking at the performance of Democrats in Washington on the economy, especially the downgrade of US Treasuries by S&P and the contrast in direction taken by Republicans in Madison toward fiscal sanity and responsibility.

That may be why Democrats have, er, downgraded their expectations for today, via Kevin Binversie:

Democrats on the ground here are increasingly confident they will pick-up two state Senate seats, but are warning that winning the third necessary for a takeover is a tenuous prospect.

Despite hype from some in the party apparatus about a “six for six” sweep Tuesday, the more realistic scenario is winning two or three seats, according to those involved in the ground game. …

“While we have solid research suggesting there are races where we might secure a second and third potential pick-up, none of these of these races except 32 should be considered safe pick-ups (and even there we face challenges to get the ball over the goal line), and we are dealing with an unprecedented electorate that is very difficult to forecast,” she continues.

District 32 is Democratic-leaning already, which makes current the Republican officeholder, Dan Kapanke, an easy target — but Kapanke isn’t going away quietly.  His team has been organizing for months to protect his seat, and given the shift in focus, might be able to remind his constituents why they put him in office in the first place.

That is what Republicans across the state need to do today.  They need to organize, turn out, and ask their neighbors if they prefer leadership that produced the best budget in 15 years and millions of dollars in public savings to the kind of leadership that produces downgrades and massive deficits.