In a set of recall elections yesterday spurred by the controversial anti-union legislation passed in February, four of six Wisconsin Republican state senators on the chopping block held on to their seats, despite unprecedented amounts of money and effort expended by Democrats and unions. The Democrats had needed three wins to take control of the state senate; by falling short, they will leave the chamber just barely in Republican hands.
There are really two ways to interpret the results from last night. In the Democrat-friendly version, the voters of Wisconsin demonstrated that there is, in fact, a political price to pay for being too aggressive against unions. The Republicans lost two seats and were less than 2,400 votes away from losing a third. That the Democrats didn't flip control of the state senate is but a product of the GOP's pre-existing five-seat margin of control had the margin been three seats, the Democrats would be in the majority now. Democrats and unions demonstrated that Governor Scott Walker could lose a recall election when he's eligible in 2012. Other states considering harsh anti-union measures might now take pause, having witnessing proof of the potential electoral backlash.
Or, they might not. Because, in the Republican-friendly version, while the unions fought back to some degree, their goal, clearly, was overturning control of the state senate, and they failed. Everyone knew the expectations going in. The Democrats and the unions threw everything they had into this recall race not in the hopes of achieving a moral victory, but of taking over the legislature. It was their big chance to show Republican governors around the country the power and fury of a union workforce scorned. If they couldn't even flip three seats after so much effort, then it appears that the broader population isn't quite as upset about anti-union legislation as the Democratic Party thinks it is.
Wisconsin GOP holds on to Senate [Politico]
This post has been updated from an earlier version.