Wednesday, June 6, 2012

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Did Wisconsin Mean More Than The Vote?

It is possible to read too much and too little into the Wisconsin recall vote
just concluded.

I think the big victory of Governor Scott Walker probably does not, in
itself, have too much impact on the re-election effort of President Obama,
other than its demoralizing effect on the Mr. Obama's campaign for
Wisconsin's electoral votes from the Badger State. Of course, Wisconsin
was hitherto not considered a prime target for Republican challenger
Mitt Romney. In the "Minnewisowa" trio (Minnesota, Wisconsin and
Iowa), it is Iowa that is considered the most likely for the GOP to win
from the Obama electoral total won in 2008. In an understandable and
probably prudent act of self-protection, the president and his campaign
avoided showing up in Wisconsin for the Democratic candidate
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. This may indeed provoke some hard
feelings among some Wisconsin Democratic voters, but it is very unlikely
this will go beyond the state's borders. Mr. Romney's chances to win this
state are arguably better now, but if he wishes to win Wisconsin in
November, he will have to campaign very hard there.

But the near-landslide victory for Mr. Walker will have immense impact
on the public sector union movement across the nation. It is a measure of
the prior-to-the-vote success of the Wisconsin Republicans efforts to curb
the power and influence of this union that Mr. Barrett and his campaign
mostly avoided the issue during the recall campaign. The case for the public
employees union and its collection of mandatory union dues was always
controversial and weak, and now it is empty. In Wisconsin, even before the
recall vote, the union had lost half its members as the result of Governor
Walker's and the legislature's previous actions. Other state governors and
legislatures, emboldened by Mr. Walker's success, will now propose and
pass similar legislation.

Although one of the four state senators also facing recall in Wisconsin
apparently did lose, and technically this gives Democrats narrow control
of the state senate, the victory was a Pyhrric one. The state senate will not
meet again until next year when a new senate will have been elected in
November. On the other hand, the use of the recall in Wisconsin has
almost certainly been exhausted for some time. Most Wisconsin voters
have made it clear they do not welcome the expensive and polarizing
campaigns which result. Recalls are rarely successful, and now other
states will be very reluctant to invoke it, having see the demonstration of
how it can backfire on a political party which tries to use it.

The notion that American voters do not turn out very well in elections
was already shattered in 2008 and 2010, and Wisconsin demonstrated
that, if provoked, they will still go to the polls in great numbers.

Whereas it was Democratic voters who were inspired and motivated to
turn out in 2006 ad 2008, it was Republican voters who were similarly
pushed to vote in 2010. There has been some question who will be more
motivated to turn out in 2012 which, more and more, is appearing to be
an historic threshold election. That question has not been fully answered
(and thus its outcome remains in doubt), but if Wisconsin tells us
something  instructive about 2012 beyond its own borders, it is perhaps
that the so-called "rule" that the key to winning is turning out a party's
base may just not be enough this political season.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.

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