What Today's Recall Election Means
A lot has been made of the importance of Tuesday's recall election of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. National pundits have seemingly predicted fallout to range anywhere from a rejuvenated labor movement carrying Obama to victory in November to evil, Republican governors forcing Walker-style reform down the throats of citizens in red states across the country. So, what is true significance of Tuesday's election?
To answer this, most analysis has rightly focused on two key aspects: the immediate impact on public labor unions and other states looking to implement similar reform, and the overall influence it will have on November's presidential election. In most cases, however, prevailing schools of thought seem to overstate the importance it will have on a national scale for one very important reason: win or lose, Scott Walker has already successfully changed the national dialog by putting public labor under the microscope.
So, what happens if Scott Walker wins?
A Walker victory clearly deals a significant blow to the labor movement and big government liberals. Wisconsin is by no means the darkest of blue states, though it is blue and does have a long history within the progressive movement. A conservative victory here sends a clear message to Republican governors, and even some like-minded Democrats, that they will be rewarded for bold reform when dealing with public unions. It also provides a major assist to Mitt Romney and other Republicans seeking election later this year.
It is a message sent equally clear, however, to public labor unions and their well-compensated union leaders. For this reason, predictions of the eventual demise of organized public labor are wildly premature. It is always dangerous when making guesses as to the limits of liberal arrogance, but public unions may find themselves in the precarious position of being forced to compromise with cash-strapped state governments or risk losing their seat at the table altogether. Unlike with the so-called compromise offered by unions and state Democrats to Walker in February 2011, union leaders may finally be willing to accept fundamental changes to the limitations of public unions and their collective bargaining rights. Even during these hyper-political times, it is not hard to envision a more cooperative environment between state governments and local unions as a result of Tuesday's vote.
And, what if Walker loses? Because the reality is, he could.
Listening to some, it would be easy to equate a Walker loss to the end of the Tea Party movement and a near certain second term for President Obama. A Walker loss, however, would not be the referendum against the conservative agenda that one might think. Poll after poll shows Walker leading the battle of public opinion. Walker currently holds anywhere from a 7 to 12 point lead over Democrat Tom Barrett depending on who you believe. (A May 30 poll by Marquette University found Walker to hold a 52-45 edge over Barrett, while a more recent poll by We Ask America shows Walker favored by a 54-42 margin.)
These results are not a fluke but rather the result of a growing trend in Walker's direction over the past several months. As anyone outside of Dane County could tell you, if public support was not on Walker's side in the beginning, it most certainly is now.
Instead, a Walker defeat would most likely be the result of an enthusiasm gap between the two parties. While I do not believe voter turnout will be an issue for either side, if anyone has a right to be concerned it is the Walker camp. The labor unions are too well organized and have too many people with vested interests not to show up in large numbers. Meanwhile, polls can have a strange effect on the minds of casual voters. Seeing their candidate ahead by 7 to 10 points can be enough for some voters to grow complacent and skip the polls entirely. For an election of this magnitude, I have a hard time thinking that will be the case, but it is a possibility.
November's presidential election however will suffer from no such lack of enthusiasm - especially among right-leaning voters looking to oust President Obama. Even with a Scott Walker loss, Wisconsin remains very much in play for Republicans come November.
For Wisconsin, the impact of Tuesday's recall election will be huge. For the rest of America, it will be an interesting side note in an on-going debate lasting throughout the presidential election and likely beyond. Yes, it will be meaningful. And yes, it will provide significant momentum to the prevailing party. The stage has been set, and the stakes are high, but regardless of the outcome, neither side is going away anytime soon.