Democratic candidates in six Wisconsin recall elections defeated decoy candidates who Republicans encouraged to run, setting the stage for state Senate races widely viewed as referendums on a divisive law that curtailed public unions' collective bargaining rights.

The Associated Press reported that five of the six candidates won by substantial margins, with the sixth garnering 54 percent of the vote. That was the expected result after the state's Republican establishment sought to buy incumbent senators more time by encouraging spoiler candidates to run against actual Democrats.

We need to make sure Democrat challengers face primaries to allow our Republicans time to mount a campaign, Dan Feyen, chairman of the 6th Congressional District Republican Party, wrote in a letter outlining the plan.

The chicanery underscores the stakes in the recall elections. The six Republican senators supported a highly controversial bill that eliminated most bargaining rights for public unions, and a voter backlash threatens to sweep them out of office. Democrats need to pick up only three seats in order to regain control of the Senate.

The primary winners will take on the Republican incumbents on Aug. 9, with four other recall elections scheduled in the next five weeks.