The last two Wisconsin recalls ended in victory for two incumbent Democrats, leaving the Republicans with a 17-to-16 majority in the State Senate.
The Democrats prevailed handily last night — State Sen. Bob Wirch won in southeastern Wisconsin with 58 percent of the vote and Democratic Sen. Jim Holperin won in the northern part of the state with 55 percent.
The bottom line: Two Republicans were recalled from the Senate, while not one Democrat lost a recall race. Republican had hoped there would be a backlash against Democratic senators who left the state to prevent a quorum during the battles earlier this year over Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s proposals to strip away the collective-bargaining rights of public employee unions. That backlash did not materialize.
What’s clear is that the fight has moved public opinion the Democrats’ way, but not as fast or as dramatically as the Democrats had hoped. Wisconsin’s premier progressive political writer, John Nichols, noted that Walker’s opponents “have prevailed in the majority of recall elections and claimed the majority of votes cast in what many saw as a statewide referendum on Walker’s policies.”
Nichols acknowledged that the Democrats’ majority in these races was narrow — roughly 243,000 votes to 239,000 — but he added that “Walker won these districts in 2010, and . . . Republican Senate candidates easily won six of them in 2008.”
So will there be a recall campaign against Walker? My hunch is yes, but Walker seems to be trying to blunt this prospect by sounding uncharacteristically moderate. And at least one moderate Republican in the State Senate could give Democrats the ability to block any further legislation that veers too far right. This could lower the political temperature and that, paradoxically, could help Walker slip by a recall.
But anybody who thinks that the country is still in the same mood as it was in November 2010 should consult these results. In Wisconsin, there was a backlash against a right-wing that overreached. National polls suggest the same thing is happening to conservatives in the House of Representatives. Wisconsin is not a right-wing state, and this is not a right-wing country. That’s the message of recall summer.