Wisconsin Republican senators won four of six recall elections Tuesday, which means the GOP will maintain its majority in the state senate.
The four GOP winners: Cowles (60%), Harsdorf (58%), Darling (54%), and Olsen (52%).
The two GOP runners-up: Kapanke (45%) and Hopper (49%).
But what does it all really mean?
Glad you asked:
1. Psychologically, this has to be a pretty big blow to Democrats and the unions. They were confident they'd defeat supreme court justice David Prosser on April 5 but came up 7,000 votes short. (That was their only real chance to kill the collective bargaining bill before it became law.) This time, they threw everything they had at six state senate swing districts--spending tens of millions and outspending Republicans two-to-one. Again, they expected to win but still came up short. That's got to hurt.
2. Politically, Wisconsin remains the 50-50 state with a GOP tilt that it was in April. Wisconsin was basically deadlocked but narrowly voted for Democrats in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, swung to Obama by 13 points in 2008, and then swung to Walker by 5 points in 2010. The fact that the GOP has dropped just a couple points since Walker's election and the implementation of a sweeping set of conservative reforms is a relief to Republicans.
But just because Republicans narrowly won rounds one (Prosser) and two (senate recalls) of the fight for Wisconsin, it doesn't mean that round three--a potential recall of Scott Walker--will be an easy victory. Former U.S. senator Russ Feingold would still be a formidable challenger. He lost during the 2010 GOP wave by 5 points, and has a certain appeal for some swing voters, though his mavericky image was tarnished in 2010.
But will the Republican victories of April and August 2011 scare Feingold off? By the time he'd run against Walker in 2012, it would be even more apparent just how much of a smashing success the collective bargaining law is. There's little doubt that Walker and Feingold (Mr. Campaign Finance Reform himself!) would be evenly matched financially in what would be the most expensive and nastiest race in state history. Who knows whether Barack Obama would help or hurt Feingold if Democrats try to hold a recall election in November 2012?
3. As for policy, Democratic hope of repealing Walker's collective bargaining bill should be pushed off to 2015, as Republicans are likely to hold the state legislature in 2012. They have a chance to pick off Democrat Jim Holperin's seat next Tuesday, and his district becomes slightly more Republican in 2012 because of redistricting (Darling's district turns into a safe Republican seat). Republicans will also have a chance to take back the seat of scandal-plagued Randy Hopper, who was polling a couple points behind Scott Walker.
All in all, the results are pretty good news for Republicans. But they shouldn't get cocky.