No, I’m not talking about last night’s tally of recall districts, which went Republican 4-2. That narrowly denied unions in Wisconsin (and let’s not kid ourselves, nationwide) the ultimate victory they needed — a change in control of the state Senate that would have produced gridlock for at least the next several months. In the end, they could only capture the Senate seat from a strong Democratic district and another from a scandal-plagued Republican, and neither one of those impressively.
It’s hard not to see this as a vindication of Scott Walker, given that unions made him the centerpiece of the recall effort:
“This was a referendum on Scott Walker,” state Sen. Luther Olsen, one of the winning Republicans, told POLITICO. “They tied us right to Scott Walker. They thought that would flip us and make us lose, but I knew my district supported the governor and what we did.”
The vote counting stretched into Wednesday morning before the last race was finally called. While one vulnerable Republican fell as expected and another lost by a razor-thin margin, Democrats failed to break away in the battleground districts they and outside groups had most heavily targeted. Closing up shop on his election night party in Madison before the final results were in, state Democratic Party chairman Mike Tate tried to claim some measure of victory, and promised to keep up efforts to recall Walker.
“We will not stop, we will not rest, until we recall Scott Walker from the state of Wisconsin,” Tate said.
They’re probably going to try, but as last night proved, it’s an empty threat. For the second time, unions had an opportunity to bring their organizational and funding advantages into a special election environment, and for the second time, Wisconsin voters largely rejected them. The union tried to unseat Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser in April, blanketing the state for challenger Joann Kloppenburg in an election that should have had a small, easily manipulated turnout. Instead, they came up empty as Wisconsin voters turned out heavily.
The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza calls this “an undeniable defeat for labor and progressive activists”:
If these results stand, its an undeniable defeat for labor and for progressive activists.
Democrats and their allies are arguing taking down two incumbents is itself a victory, given that recalling an official is incredibly difficult and rare. But they invested very heavily in taking back the state senate and fell short.
Whether those groups will continue to push for the recall of Gov. Scott Walker (R) is unclear. …
Outside groups on both sides poured more than $25 million into this fight, in addition to the more than $5 million raised by the candidates themselves. According to the non-partisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s Mike McCabe, Republicans had a slight edge in the money race, but it was “remarkably close.” Unions were the main source of funds for Democrats; limited-government groups such as the Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity invested heavily on the GOP side.
Translation: in a straight-up race, Republicans win in Wisconsin these days. It doesn’t help these progressive activists that Walker and the GOP produced the best budget proposal in 15 years, and that the PEU reform has already begun to save Milwaukee $11 million this year and much more across the state. It also doesn’t help Democrats to have President Obama “leading” us into a credit downgrade, massive deficits, and no apparent plan to pull us out of the economic stagnation his policies have produced.
That’s not the end of the bad news for Democrats and their progressive-activist supporters, either. Next Tuesday, two more recall elections take place for the state Senate, this time two of the fleebagger seats, thanks to the reaction from the GOP to the union’s efforts to recall Republicans. It’s possible that the unions will go 0 for 3 in 2011 and end up handing back the two pickups they got last night. The unions will have ended up spending millions to end up right where they began — locked out of Madison — while adding a powerful display of electoral impotence to their brand. They have discredited themselves with Wisconsin voters in a way that Walker and the GOP couldn’t possibly have planned, the victim of their own arrogance in attempting to overturn elections for no other reason that protecting their own featherbeds.