Shilling/Kapanke

A new poll shows Sen. Dan Kapanke far behind his Democratic challenger in a summer recall election in which few likely voters remain undecided.

State Rep. Jennifer Shilling holds a 14-point lead over Kapanke among likely voters, according to the poll commissioned by the liberal blog Daily Kos and conducted last week by Public Policy Polling.

Fifty six percent said they support Shilling, while 42 percent back Kapanke. Only 3 percent said they were undecided. The poll has a margin of error of 2.3 percent.

“This is difficult news for the Kapanke campaign,” said University of Wisconsin-La Crosse political scientist Joe Heim. The unusually low number of undecided voters is noteworthy, he said.

Even so, Heim said, with the election six weeks away there are sectors where Kapanke could mine votes. He is faring better among men, conservatives and non-union households.

Kapanke’s campaign downplayed the poll’s significance. Shilling declined to comment.

“I think we’re seeing a growing support for Dan,” said his campaign manager, Jen Harrington. “It’s all about turnout. Six weeks is an eternity in an election.”

With few undecided voters to sway, the election will hinge on which side gets the most voters to the polls, and neither side has experience in a mid-summer special election.

“We have little history with recalls and so knowing who will actually show up to vote based on polling data is extremely uncertain,” said Charles Franklin, a professor of political science at UW-Madison. “If one party wins the turnout battle, they may well also win the election.”

Only 41 percent said they approved of Kapanke’s job performance, which was slightly higher than approval for Gov. Scott Walker, whose move to curtail collective bargaining rights for most public workers spawned historic protests and recall efforts against senators in both parties.

The poll did not ask about approval of Shilling’s performance as a state representative, though 56 percent said they had a favorable opinion of her.

Shilling also appears to be pulling support — 17 percent — from those who voted for Walker. Only 8 percent of those who voted for his Democratic opponent, Tom Barrett, say they would vote for Kapanke.

Shilling leads 2-to-1 among those who didn’t vote in the gubernatorial race or don’t remember who they voted for. She holds a similar lead among self-identified moderates and women.

Predictably, nearly three quarters of voters in union households say they support Shilling, while non-union households lean slightly toward Kapanke.

Shilling, who has represented La Crosse in the Assembly since 2001, is challenging Kapanke, in his second term representing the largely rural 32nd Senate district, which includes La Crosse, Vernon and Crawford counties as well as parts of Monroe and Richland.

To get on the Aug. 9 ballot, Shilling must first beat Republican “protest” candidate James Smith, who is running as a Democrat in the July 12 primary.

The poll looked at three recall races in which Democrats are challenging Republican incumbents. Of the Republicans, Sen. Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls fared best, with 50 percent to her challenger’s 45. Sen. Randy Hopper of Fond du Lac trailed his opponent by three points, a negligible difference with a margin of error of 2.9 percent.

Though the poll sponsor is left-leaning, Franklin said the results are in keeping with expectations based on recent elections. Heim said the demographics resemble those of previous local polls.

The results support conventional wisdom that Kapanke, a Republican in a generally liberal district, is one of the most vulnerable of the six GOP senators facing recall. Three Democratic senators are also up for recall elections.

Democrats need to net three seats to gain a majority in the Senate.

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