Here’s another reason why the Wisconsin recall battle is so important. It’s an early test of whether unabashed populism — and an aggressive defense of government’s role in safeguarding the quality of life of working and middle class Americans as preferable to the conservative austerity vision — can carry the day in a key swing state. The answer could provide early clues as to how the clash of ideologies between the major parties will play out in the national 2012 elections.

Case in point: The new ads that the labor-backed We Are Wisconsin launched today against two GOP state senators and top recall targets. Yesterday, the real Dems swept to victory in the sham primaries that the Wisconsin GOP rigged in order to delay the general recall elections, and as Rachel Weiner notes, today the real recall battle starts in earnest.

Here’s the spot that’s running against vulnerable senator Luther Olsen — take particular note of the ad’s aggressive populism:

That ad, and another one that’s running against GOP state senator Sheila Harsdorf, traffic heavily in the sort of bare-knuckled, us-versus-them populism that tends to elicit howls of “class warfare” from the right.

In other words, these recalls are in a sense an early test run for Dem messaging in 2012, which is expected to focus heavily on the GOP plan to end Medicare as we know it, and on implacable Republican opposition to raising taxes on the rich. It’s an early test of how the battle over the proper scope and role of government — and over who should bear the burden of fixing our fiscal mess — could shape up next year.

The parallels between the Wisconsin and national landscapes aren’t perfect. Obama’s embrace of a “grand bargain” on deficit reduction has led Dems to fight it out on GOP turf in a way that isn’t happening in Wisconsin, where a starker ideological battle is underway. National Dems aren’t fighting as hard for union rights as Wisconsin Dems are. But the comparison remains apt. Scott Walker’s union-busting overreach has its national parallel in Paul Ryan’s Medicare overreach, which many Dems believe has given them an opening to restate the case for liberal priorities after the 2010 shellacking had left them shellshocked and on the run. The Wisconsin results could provide clues as to whether this GOP overreach has enabled old-fashioned populism to make a comeback.

If Dems can take back the state senate, it will stand as a major rebuke to Scott Walker and the national conservatives who turned him into an icon, not to mention their austerity-first hostility towards government, progressive taxation, and the safety net. And it could embolden Dems to join that argument more aggressively than they otherwise might be willing to do.