As the final results become known in the Wisconsin recall efforts several questions begged to be asked. First, what do the results mean for Scott Walker, the GOP Governor of Wisconsin? Second, who won last night? Third, what do the results portend for 2012? And finally, what do these results suggest about the state of union power?
First let’s just start with the results of last night. Six GOP senators were up for recall last night. Each GOP senator was seen as vulnerable in some way. The two lowest hanging apples from the tree, Dan Kapanake of the 22nd District and Randy Hopper of the 18th were defeated. Kapanke was in a district that voted for Obama heavily in 2008 and went for Democratic candidate for Governor John Barrett in 2010. In the 2011 state Supreme Court race the district went havily for Kloppenburg (D) over GOP Supreme Court Justice Scott Prosser. Hopper was done in in his swing district by allegations he had a mistress who lived outside his district and it became known his wife had joined the recall effort against him. But that is where Democratic successes ended.
In the swing 10th and 8th Districts Olsen and Darling held onto win narrowly by single digit margins (Olsen by 4% and Darling by 8%). In the swing 10th and 2nd Districts Cowles and Harsdorf held onto win by double digits. In all these races they faced decent challengers and were outspent by liberal groups from inside and outside the state. In the cases of the four GOP senators who survived the recall their districts went for Prosser in the 2011 state Supreme Court race.
Turnout in each race was extremely high. In one district turnout exceeded that of the 2010 gubernatorial race. For all the predictions of Democrats motivating and getting their base out while the GOP and conservative was unethusiastic the opposite was the result. Republicans were enthusiastic and buoyed by outside groups like the RNC and Tea Party Expresss coming into the state to help mobilize them to vote.
So what does this race say for GOP Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin. It says the obvious. Walker’s conservative agenda is extremely polarizing. However, it has failed to turn right leaning electorates in most of these districts away from him. Instead, it has merely deepended the partisan divide in the state but not shifted voting blocs. Walker’s and the GOP’s agenda has basically split the state along ideological lines. Fiscal conservatives and conservatives in general love it. Moderates and liberals turned strongly against his agenda.
Democrats and unions were hoping to recall Walker after the results of these recalls. Wisconsin law gives elected officials one year in office before they are eligible for recall. But now that has been called into question. With the momentum of Democrats and unions seriously stalled by this setback the question must be considered whether they can try and recall the Governor let alone succeed. Governor Walker remains deeply polarizing as does his agenda, but is unclear whether he should feel worried or happy from the results.
The second question that must be asked is who won last night? Depending on who you ask it was conservatives or liberals, Democrats or Republicans. Each side will spin a tale to make their partisans happy and ready to keep up the fight. Liberals and Democrats see the result as a win for they recalled 2 state senators. In the US only 13 elected officials have ever been recalled. But never has so much money been spent on a race either, by either side. Conservatives and Republicans say they came out ahead. They held onto enough seats to maintain control of the Senate and saw turnout even they had not expected in their winning senators districts. So likely who won depends on the eye of the beholder.
One thing is clear however. Unions wanted more then two state senate seats to flip. They wanted control of the state senate and wanted at least half of the seats they fought for. Instead they did not get it and got two seats that were likely to flip in 2012 regardless of the outcome here.
Thirdly, the results last night have importance for 2012. They show that the state has reverted back to its swing state mentality (after Obama’s 2008 double-digit win). Wisconsin will once again be a battleground for the 2012 presidential race. It also indicates the open 2012 US Senate seat race will also be extremely tight. The constituencies of both parties remain deeply divided and loyal to their ideologies and parties. In 2012 it will likely come down to turnout and the state of the fragile US economy.
Lastly, the results of last night show that the power unions once wielded in swing states may finally be coming to an end. Unions maintain tight and powerful grips in blue states such as CA and the Northeast region of the US but their influence in swing states looks to be waning. Perhaps 30 or 40 years ago unions could have easily delivered these races but now they have to compete with new onservative 3rd party groups that have supporters and money from all over the US. Unions have suffered heavy defeats in WI, (twice now), OH with the passage of SB-5 and in Indiana where Collective Bargaining Reform and pension reform was finalized.
I touched on the fact that unions are now under attack from the left and right due to budget constraints. Blue state governors, most notably in New Hampshire, New York and in Connecticut have literally forced unions to make concessions. In states with Republican leadership unions have lashed back with abandon and suffered major setbacks. This points to a decline in union influence and power in these key swing states. And it also suggests that unions are on the defensive despite the recall races in WI, and the attempt to repeal SB-5 in Ohio.
That is a quick rundown of last night. Enjoy.