Wisconsin's 'unprecedented' recall elections: Winners and losers

Democrats successfully oust two GOP state senators in the latest battle in the Badger State's bruising labor war

Gov. Scott Walker may not have been on the Wisconsin recall election Tuesday, but he still comes out on top as Republicans remain in control of the state senate.
(Image credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

On Tuesday night, Wisconsin Democrats came up one seat short of flipping control of the Republican-held state Senate, winning two of six recall elections against GOP incumbents. (There will be a total of nine recall elections, including an earlier election won by the Democratic incumbent and two more against sitting Democrats next week.) The recall elections have stemmed from the union-busting showdown between Gov. Scott Walker (R) and Democrats earlier this year, and are largely seen as a referendum on the state GOP's controversial gutting of collective bargaining rights for public employees. Democrats needed three victories Tuesday to take back the legislative chamber for the Left. Now Badger State Republicans, who retain a narrow 17-16 majority in the state Senate, still control the governorship and both chambers of the state legislature. Who wins and loses from this "unprecedented" day of recall politics?


Gov. Scott Walker

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Walker himself wasn't on the ballot, but his agenda was, says Richard Adams at Britain's The Guardian. And keeping the state Senate in GOP hands means that the "possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016" can continue passing his legislative priorities unimpeded. And now, "recall campaigns of Walker or other state senators [are] less likely in 2012," says David Weigel at Slate. If the Left's fierce anger over his conservative policies wasn't enough to sink three of his allies this time, "what's the anti-Walker argument" for next year?

Wisconsin's economy

Outside groups, from labor unions to the conservative Koch brothers, have spent at least $33 million on nine recall races, says Robert Oak at Economic Populist. And mind you, this is for state Senate seats. "Literally, the recall was Wisconsin's own mini economic stimulus for the duration of the fight." Given the national implications, the donors "were not filling the coffers of Wisconsin TV stations just to ensure fine representation for the citizens of La Crosse and Racine," says Andrew Malcolm in the Los Angeles Times.

Labor unions

Democrats didn't wrest control of the state Senate from the GOP, but in knocking off two unfriendly lawmakers and making four others fight for their seats, "labor organizations have proved themselves very capable at collecting signatures to force action at the ballot box," says Adam Sorensen at TIME. And labor's backlash against Walker and other statehouse antagonists has at least "chastened Republican governors who've seen their approval ratings plummet."


Labor unions

The unions had signaled that "the takeover of the Senate would be a defining cause for them in 2011," and they failed, says Slate's Weigel. And though they and allied groups spent $12 million to win their two seats, they were still outgunned by conservative groups, which "were able to blitz into the election in the final month."


"This has to be viewed as something of a grand failure for the Democrats," says Scott Johnson at Power Line. "After months of agitation over the collective bargaining law, the supreme court election, and now the recalls," says Allahpundit at Hot Air, Democrats "haven't regained control of anything." Not only that, their two hard-won victories could quickly be negated next week, when Republicans have two shots to unseat Democratic state senators.


"Republicans — in Wisconsin and D.C. — are understandably delighted," says Steve Benen at Washington Monthly. But the Democrats rather remarkably knocked off two state senators in "districts that can safely be described as GOP strongholds." If that counts as a loss, "I hope we have many more such 'losses' in 2012," says Markos Moulitsas at Daily Kos. If Democrats can win 33 percent of GOP-held districts nationwide, "Speaker Nancy Pelosi will have a huge majority in 2013."

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