SHOREWOOD — Matthew Dunn had barely started knocking on doors Saturday in this village next to Milwaukee when the reality of the task ahead of him became apparent.
"Oh, I've already signed," said resident Sandra Hays, a writing instructor at Milwaukee Area Technical College.
The two chatted amiably, but Dunn, 36, a high school counselor who lives in the village, left the woman's doorstep without getting any closer to his goal of triggering a recall election against Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills.
"I think most of the easy signatures have been grabbed," he said. "Now, it's a slog."
Across Wisconsin, recall efforts are underway against 16 state senators — eight Democrats and eight Republicans. Each effort has just 60 days to gather enough signatures to force an election.
The clock starts ticking the day the recall committee registers with the state. Almost all of the efforts are now approaching the halfway point of the 60-day window or are already there — a critical juncture.
"The longer (a recall effort) goes on, the harder it is to get people's attention and to keep volunteers motivated," said Michael Kraft, a political science professor at UW-Green Bay.
For that reason, a recall effort ideally should have banked a disproportionate number of signatures by the halfway point, because the pace typically slows, he said.
The number of signatures gathered must be at least 25 percent of the number of votes cast for governor in that district in the most recent gubernatorial election. Given that relatively high bar, experts have said it is unlikely that even half of the 16 efforts will lead to recall elections.
Hitting the ground
In Shorewood Saturday, Dunn spent a chilly afternoon going door to door with another volunteer, Ronni Endemann, 37, of Burlington, an account services employee at a medical facility.
Dunn, a union member, said he was motivated by Darling's support of Republican Gov. Scott Walker's effort to end most collective bargaining rights for public sector workers. Endemann, not a union member, said she sympathizes with the labor movement and is concerned about proposed cuts to education and state health-care programs.
They were given a map of specific houses to approach from the recall effort's headquarters. Three hours later, they had knocked on 98 doors and acquired five signatures.
No one answered the door at 68 homes, 21 people already had signed a petition and four people refused.
The results were not unexpected because the campaign is in the "super-saturation" phase of going back over some neighborhoods two or more times, said Kristopher Rowe, 32, of Sherwood, a respiratory therapist who started the recall effort with a Facebook page.
The Darling recall effort needs at least 20,343 signatures by May 2. Rowe wouldn't say where the campaign is at, but he told one volunteer Saturday, "I guarantee you we will have more than enough signatures by that day."
'Not giving up'
Monday in Sun Prairie, homemaker Kate Ploessl, 48, stood on the public sidewalk outside the U.S. Postal Service office collecting signatures in the recall effort against Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona.
She described herself as a "conservative independent" who became irritated when the 14 Senate Democrats, including Miller, left the state to delay the vote on Walker's budget repair bill. "I see them as people who neglected to do their jobs," she said.
She has collected nearly 80 signatures herself, she said, but the two-hour stint Monday netted only three more. "That's how it goes sometimes," she said afterward. "I'm not giving up."
The Miller effort needs at least 20,352 signatures by April 26 but hopes to get 25,000 to have a cushion, said Jeff Horn, 43, a computer programmer from DeForest and the effort's leader. The campaign has not yet passed the halfway point to reach 25,000, he said.
"It's going to be close," he said. "I'm not saying we're ahead of the game, but I'm not despondent."
Horn said he was encouraged Saturday when he and several volunteers collected about 75 signatures in three hours at a stationary site along Monona Drive in "the heart of Miller country" in Monona.
Both he and Rowe said all of the people collecting signatures for them are unpaid volunteers.
The work isn't easy.
Ploessl first tried to gather signatures while parked in the lot of a residential complex across from the post office but was asked to leave. Then she parked at the post office and was told by an employee that she had to either leave the parking lot or take down a large "Recall Miller" poster on her vehicle. (She chose the latter.)
Dunn and Endemann had their own challenges Saturday. While most people were friendly, three homeowners ripped into them.
One man told Endemann that what she was doing was "horrible" and that she should "reexamine her life." A woman told Dunn she had voted for Darling "forever" and that he had "a lot of nerve knocking on my door and making me answer it."
"There are strong feelings on both sides," Dunn said afterward. "I fully expect to be verbally berated at times."