Does the result of the recall election in Wisconsin mean anything nationally? Not really. In fact the campaign to recall union-busting Governor Scott Walker was a loser before the campaign even began.
Before looking at the doomed nature of the recall, let's clear the decks. First and foremost, the Democratic loss Tuesday certainly doesn't mean Obama will lose the state in November. Exit polls show that a surprising number of pro-Governor Walker voters plan to vote for Obama in the fall. In fact, Obama has a solid lead among all those voting in the Wisconsin recall Tuesday and in all statewide polling.
Nor does it demonstrate that big money can defeat volunteer precinct work. About 94% of voters on each side had already made up their minds before May began. May is when a lot of the $46 million in pro-Walker super-pac funds inundated the state with advertising. (Walker and his super pacs outspent his rival FIVE to one.)
It also doesn't demonstrate a public reaction against labor unions. Exit polls show that sentiments pro and con on labor unions don't account for Walker's win.
So what did decide the election in Wisconsin?
Two things: First is an issue that was unique to Wisconsin: Is a recall itself an appropriate procedure?
Wisconsin voters - by a whopping 70% - told pollsters they do NOT approve of the recall procedure. Ten percent said it was never appropriate, while sixty percent said it's appropriate "only for official misconduct". This set of figures - all by itself - is the only one that explains Tuesday's result. The result was not strictly a party-line vote. It was not a pro-Obama v. anti-Obama result. It was not determined by a tsunami of pro-Walker ads.
In fact, the election was not a recall at all. It was a referendum on the use of the recall.
Therefore, it is hardly surprising that 94% of those who voted for Walker in 2010 voted for him again on Tuesday, and 94% of those who voted for his opponent in 2010 voted again for the same opponent on Tuesday. The voters of Wisconsin, from what they told the exit pollsters and by how they repeated their 2010 vote, said loud and clear: "Keep your hands off my vote! Don't try to change what I did in 2010!"
Well, why does Wisconsin have a recall procedure if 70% of voters don't like recall? Maybe its use violates a Wisconsin sense of fair play, i.e. a belief that when one side has won an election that side should have its chance to govern for the full term it has won. I don't know. You'd have to ask the folks of Wisconsin why they don't like recall.
Apparently, nobody in the anti-Walker forces thought to ask that basic question early on. If they had, they would have seen the big weakness in their efforts: the recall wasn't going to be about Walker; it was going to be about recall itself. And they wouldn't have wasted $9 million - most of it union money - fighting a battle that was already lost.
The other thing they wouldn't have wasted was all the energy, hard work and faith of their wonderful volunteers. Talk about Pickett's charge! Or the slaughter on the Somme! Never, my friends, send your trusting followers into a hopeless fight!
I suspect that one group did ask Wisconsin voters about their views on the recall procedure. I'm guessing that the Obama campaign did its own quiet polling on the issue and learned very early that Wisconsin was not going to oust a governor because of his policies. That is the likely reason that the Obama campaign didn't hurl the president into the Wisconsin mess. He couldn't help Walker's opponent - nothing could. All Obama would have done is hurt himself by risking his present lead in Wisconsin. More accurately, he would have hurt all the rest of us. WE NEED him to win in November. The country and the world cannot afford a Romney presidency!
The unions took their chances in Wisconsin. They made a bad bet. And they lost because it was the wrong bet, because they bet on recall. I love the unions and respect that many of their leaders have some good political sense about the lesser nuts and bolts of politics. But they are not political brain-busters. If they really understood politics, the unions would not now be on their last legs in this country, reduced to a mere 12% of the working force.
Okay. What's the second reason Walker won his recall election? It's simple. The guy running against him was a mediocre candidate.
Not a really bad candidate, but just not a very good one. He's the same guy who lost to Walker in 2010. Why run a loser a second time? Beats me. I tried to listen to the guy on TV and couldn't make out much of what he was saying during the campaign, but I could hear every word Walker said. I looked at the white-haired Walker opponent and compared him with the vigorous young Walker. I could see that some voters would go by looks alone, opting for a mule whose got lots of miles in him. Sure enough, the age 30-to-45 Wisconsin voters went big-time for Walker.He looks like them. Friends of mine complain about voters going on looks alone. Tough, kiddies, but that's just the way it is. And don't you have to admit that the youthfulness of Obama helped him a lot against the obviously old McCain?
So there it is. Now it's no longer "On, Wisconsin!" Now it's "On to November!" And we have a terrific candidate! And - hopefully - we will have a ground organization as good or better as the one in Wisconsin. And the billion dollars the super pacs will spend for Romney won't change people's minds. Their money didn't change minds in Wisconsin; the recall issue had already cast the election in concrete. We won't have that baggage in November, thank heaven.
So let's get to it!