wpostServer: http://css.washingtonpost.com/wpost2

The Wisconsin recall vacuum

at 07:49 AM ET, 08/09/2011

Wisconsin Republicans are in real danger of losing control of the state Senate in tonight’s recall elections, as it looks more and more possible that they will lose at least three of the six seats that are on the ballot.

The losses would be cast by Democrats as a severe rebuke of Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) policies. And wins by Republicans would be cast by them as validation for Walker’s tough-love budgeting style.

Both of those evaluations would be fair. (For more on just how we’ve gotten here, see Michael A. Fletcher’s piece today and our primer from last week.)

Beyond Walker’s political capital, though, it’s hard to draw many broad national conclusions about what the recall elections mean. That’s because what’s happening in Wisconsin is occurring very much in a vacuum, for several reasons.

The first is that, as with special elections, these recall elections have have such unusual turnout and have received such inordinate attention from national third-party groups trying to influence the races and send a message. In fact, the recalls have essentially been special elections on steroids, with spending reaching nearly $30 million.

As of a couple weeks ago, about two-thirds of that has gone to benefit Democrats, and Republicans acknowledge that they were essentially caught flat-footed by the whole thing. And because of that, they’ve been fighting from behind in recent weeks.

“This is a referendum on Walker, and the Democrats have everything to lose, and the Republicans did not have a plan for what they started,” said one Republican monitoring the recalls. “And the national folks never saw it for what it was, which is a proxy fight.”

The proxy fight is between organized labor and the new coalitions of GOP governors and state legislative majorities. In the end, Walker’s gambit to cut collective bargaining rights through a legislative maneuver so badly irritated organized labor — and Wisconsin’s laws made it so easy to recall a member of the state legislature — that here we are amidst the biggest mass recall in United States history.

The second reason is that, while some Republican governors have been aggressive in cutting their budgets, the maneuver executed by Walker and the state legislature takes the cake.

Even as we’ve seen Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) and Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) struggle early on and become broadly unpopular, they haven’t ignited the opposition in the same way Walker did. And there isn’t such a ready and impactful recourse in their states.

Labor is getting some traction pushing back against Kasich, fighting to get a measure repealing his collective bargaining bill on November’s ballot. And polling shows repeal is popular. But there’s little reason to believe the episode has far-reaching consequences for the state’s presidential, congressional or even state legislative elections, which are still 15 months away.

(As Fix friend Stu Rothenberg points out, there is essentially no evidence that an unpopular governor has much of an impact on a presidential race.)

In the end, the efforts against Walker and Kasich on labor rights could very well provide a chilling effect for other Republicans who are feeling ambitious when it comes to those rights in their own states — i.e. ‘Don’t mess with labor.’ And Democrats argue that could extend to other divisive budget-cutting issues like reforming Medicare.

But besides that, taking six state Senate races in one state and extrapolating them across the rest of the country is highly problematic.

Palin on S&P downgrade: I told you so: Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin (R), who is still weighing a presidential bid, took to Facebook on Monday to weigh in on Standard & Poor’s downgrade of the United States’ credit.

Palin pointed to her own words in December predicting the potential downgrade if the country didn’t get serious about reducing its debt.

“I’m surprised that so many people seem surprised by S&P’s decision,” Palin wrote. “Weren’t people paying attention over the last year or so when we were getting warning after warning from various credit rating agencies that this was coming? I’ve been writing and speaking about it myself for quite some time.”

Palin also fought back against the idea that the tea party’s brinksmanship in the debt limit debate caused the downgrade.

“Blaming the Tea Party for our credit downgrade is akin to Nero blaming the Christians for burning Rome,” she wrote. “Tea Party Americans weren’t the ones ‘fiddling’ while our country’s fiscal house was going up in smoke.”

Perry’s ‘soft launch,’ and what it means: Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) will go to New Hampshire and South Carolina this weekend for what many are calling a “soft launch” of his presidential campaign.

The timing of Perry’s moves, of course, is particularly interesting, given that Saturday is that Ames Straw Poll. Perry’s quasi-announcement and the attention it would receive would serve notice to the rest of the GOP presidential field — especially those in Ames on Saturday — that not everybody is content with their options.

Plus, the buzz currently growing around Perry serves as validation for straw poll attendees wondering if writing in his name at the event is a worthwhile endeavor.

Fixbits:

The Justice Department and four states are alleging fraud by the for-profit college company Education Management Corporation, which at the time of the allegations was run by Sen. Olympia Snowe’s (R-Maine) husband, former Maine governor Jock McKernan. McKernan is now chairman of the board, and Snowe has at least $2 million in company stock.

Former senator Rick Santorum takes a shot at former Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s (R) shifting positions on gay marriage and states’ rights.

Did Mitt Romney just take a swipe at Perry too?

The Post’s Paul Kane looks at who might serve on the so-called Super Committee sorting out the debt limit deal.

Tim Pawlenty assures us he’s in the race to win — not to get some consolation prize like a television show.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) takes some credit for a politically risky (and ultimately successful) effort to pass a gay marriage bill.

Freshman Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) has formed a new political action committee, ARKPAC.

Must-reads:

Tim Pawlenty fights to gain ground ahead of Ames Straw Poll” — Michael Leahy, Washington Post

Obama plan: Destroy Romney” — Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin, Politico

 Read more on PostPolitics.com

Everything you need to know about the Wisconsin recalls

Stock may plunge, but the market for blame is strong in Washington

The debt ‘super committee’: Who will serve on it?

 
Read what others are saying