The Wisconsin recall campaign made a real achievement in winning two state senate seats away from the Republicans. Political pundits and Republicans portray it as a defeat: it was not.
The six senators targeted represented heavily Republican areas. They were last elected in 2008, winning their districts even in the middle of the huge Democratic wave of that year. State Democratic chair Mike Tate pointed out that the district held by GOP senator Olsen, who only kept his seat by a narrow margin of 52%-48%, had not elected a Democrat in over 100 years.
And Alberta Darling won by only 54%-46%. She is co-chair of the state Finance Committee that oversaw Walker’s elimination of collective bargaining rights for state workers, and her constituency includes Waukesha County, recognized nationally as one of the Republican Party’s most solid urban strongholds. In 2008, John McCain carried the county by a 25.7% margin over Barack Obama, when Obama won Wisconsin by 13.9% over McCain.
E.J. Dionne in WaPo commented: “If only about 1,100 votes had switched in the closest contest, Democrats would have won the extra Senate seat they needed and would now be celebrating their use of Walker’s frontal attack on the collective-bargaining rights of public employees to produce a political realignment. … Conservatives succeeded in using their large financial advantage to blunt the impact of labor and progressive organizing. All the spending had the effect of transforming the recalls from a progressive crusade into a typical and dispiriting electoral trench war and its weapons of choice, negative media ads and nasty mailings.”
However, it was not just the money that conservative groups and the Koch brothers contributed that explains the result. Walker does have a base in a growth coalition, defined as a local power structure which seeks to intensify land use in the state: real estate and manufacturing, mining interests, and local banks. Their opposition to state regulation and taxes coincided with the drive of national corporations and the super-rich to deregulate and detax the US economy. The Tea Party was financed by and acted for this group in the 2010 elections.
Moreover, the incumbent Republicans had local ties and reputations, while the challengers were unknown newcomers. The Cap Times interviewed Ann Fedders, from the small town of New Richmond located near Wisconsin’s western border, at the Capitol Tuesday night. “She voted against [Republican senator Sheila] Harsdorf early Tuesday before making the drive to Madison. Fedders says she went to high school with Harsdorf, but has never voted for her because of their political differences. While the vote to recall Harsdorf was unsuccessful, Fedders says a statewide attempt to recall Walker would likely play out differently, at least in her neck of the woods. ‘People would more readily recall Walker,’ Fedders says. ‘Harsdorf’s family is part of this community. I don’t think voters would have the same personal connection to Walker’.”
Talking Points Memo commented: “… the Wisconsin battle enabled Dems to hone a class-based message about GOP overreach that is showing some success in winning back white working class voters, with potential ramifications for 2012. The national outpouring of financial support for the Dem recall candidates showed that there’s a national liberal/Dem constituency that can be activated by Dems who don’t flinch from taking the fight to opponents with unabashedly bare-knuckled populism.”
The energy and commitment shown by the Wisconsin Democrats is in stark contrast to the dismay of Obama supporters at his capitulation to the Republicans. Commentator Matt Miller writes in WaPo: “In conversations with folks across the center-left in recent days, everyone’s basically had it with the president. … somehow the debt-ceiling fiasco and the downgrade, punctuated by these horrific jobs numbers and stock market gyrations, has made something in me (and, I suspect, millions of others) snap. It’s the sound of confidence in Obama’s leadership breaking.”
Let’s face it: the gulf between the people and their representatives has never been greater. They must have a voice. Take a leaf from the book of the Wisconsin Democrats, who are going for a recall of Walker himself next year. To restore the confidence and fighting spirit of Democrats nationally, the Wisconsin struggle must be taken into every state in the US by building Wisconsin Clubs in the state Democratic parties who will work to get progressives elected in the primaries and support a primary challenge to Obama.