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Wisconsin recall elections begin, a legacy of Scott Walker's labor union wars

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To understand it all, it helps to think of the votes not as recalls but as special elections, in which lawmakers are being forced to defend their seats ahead of schedule. The six Republican senators being challenged – by Democrats angry over their roles in Governor Walker’s legislation – would have had to face reelection Tuesday, but state Republicans helped buy them some more time by putting up Republican candidates as Democrats (“protest candidates," according to the GOP; "fake Democrats," according to the Democrats) so as to force a Democratic primary and buy GOP legislators another month.

"If there weren't primaries in these races, our Republican senators would have had to face elections just days after voting on the state budget, essentially giving them no time to campaign," Stephan Thompson, executive director of the Wisconsin Republican Party, told Fox News.

The actual general election will be held a month later, on Aug 9.

Next Tuesday, meanwhile, three Democratic senators will have to defend themselves. They are among those who fled the state in a bid to prevent a vote on the governor's budget plan. Though Democrats haven’t put up protest candidates, two of those elections also have multiple GOP challengers, and so will hold a primary next week rather than a general election, and the general election will take place Aug. 16.

If the procedures seem somewhat arcane, many observers are nonetheless looking at these elections for insight into the mood of the electorate in Wisconsin, which more than any other state has symbolized the angry partisan divide around union politics, in particular.

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