Organized labor and the professional left didn't do a very good job of controlling expectations leading into last night's recall elections in Wisconsin. The conventional wisdom held that Democrats would pick off at least three of the six Republican incumbents eligible for recall, enough to flip control of the upper chamber. This would deal a severe blow to Gov. Scott Walker and the labor reform movement across the country.
That didn't happen.
Republicans successfully defended four seats, including all three toss-ups. In the end, Democrats were only able to recall Sen. Dan Kapanke, who represented a very blue district, and Sen. Randy Hopper, whose personal problems sunk his campaign. Republicans are assured an enduring Senate majority, with the chance to regain a seat or two next week when two Democrat incumbents are subject to recall elections.
If you were on Twitter last night gleefully imbibing in left-wing meltdowns 140 characters at a time, as I was, you saw a desperate talking point begin to emerge: A two-seat pickup is a win for Democrats because these incumbents were strong enough to win in Wisconsin despite a 2008 Democratic landslide in the state. This is nonsense. Both Hopper and Kapanke won narrowly in 2008 against weak opponents. Hopper's loss last night had nothing to do with his voting record, but his personal problems. And while Republicans were initially hopeful that Kapanke's considerable political skills could give him a chance, the reality that he represented a district where President Obama took a remarkable 61 percent of the vote was too much to overcome. This is akin to re-running the 2008 presidential election in Indiana and North Carolina and declaring a shocking upset for the Republican.
I don't have to spin the results at all to make it clear that this was an absolute victory for Scott Walker and the Fitzgerald brothers. Nor is it a stretch to say this breathes new life into the labor reform movement at the state level. You think John Kasich, Shannon Jones and the pro-SB 5 groups in Ohio are walking with a spring in their step this morning? Absolutely. Because the silent majority – those that were too busy working, raising families and paying bills to bus down to the Capitol building for a political rally – they vote. And they tend to agree that asking public employees to pay for a very modest share of their benefits package is not ridiculous. They would probably tell you that spiraling labor costs are worrisome, as are the debt incurred and tax increases imposed to pay for them.
When the dust settles next week after two incumbent Democrats are subjected to recall, we'll know the exact makeup of the Wisconsin Senate. But we know now for sure that millions of dollars and a laundry list of scare tactics wasn't enough to bring down Scott Walker's agenda. May Republican governors across the country take note.