As Wisconsin goes, so goes the nation

Political strategists are always looking to state elections as barometers for federal elections.  Often times, the projections that these strategists make give far too much weight to local elections, but these strategists are political junkies and political animals, and they can’t help but regard any election that occurs within our borders as a tea leaf for the general sentiment of the country.  By most accounts, however, the attempt to recall embattled Governor Scott Walker Monday in Wisconsin is truly an important election in this regard.

The reason these strategists attach such importance to this election are many: Wisconsin is generally regarded a blue state, in that the state has voted for the Democrat candidate in the last six presidential elections,{1} and Democrats and Republicans alike have poured massive amounts of money into this recall measure.  Some of this money has come from out of state in the form of private donations, and until recently federal funds.  Wisconsin was the first state in the union to give teachers and local government workers the right to collective bargaining in 1959, with state employees getting that right in the 1970s.  It may become the first state to take away public workers’ collective bargaining rights, if Republican Gov. Scott Walker has his way. He is backing legislation that would restrict union bargaining to just wages, eliminating their right to make deals over health, pensions, working hours, vacations and other benefits. {2}

John Ellis, a BuzzFeed Contributor, puts it more bluntly:

If Gov. Walker under-performs, then it will be a huge win for the Liberal-Labor coalition. The Obama campaign will feel the warm rush of political valium, soothing their November jitters. Everyone expects Gov. Walker to win this election, despite the razor-thin margins of every special election that has been held across Wisconsin since the 2010 general election. The polls say he will win by 6 percentage points, at least. So a Walker defeat on Tuesday would be the biggest story of all.

Is there any chance that Barrett can pull off an upset? Probably not. If he was leading in the polls, President Obama would be campaigning for him this weekend. The fact that the president is not campaigning for him this weekend means two things: (1) Barrett is behind in Team Obama polling by more than the margin of error, and (2) a presidential appearance would not provide enough of a lift for Barrett to make the difference. So, using the Obama test, Mr. Barrett is a goner.

The key to this election, however, is not really whether Governor Walker wins. More or less everyone expects him to do that. The key is how much he wins by. The crude calculation is this: Walker defeat equals certain Obama win in November. Walker win by 1-5 percentage points equals very close presidential general election (nationally). A Walker win by 6 points or more equals Mitt Romney is the favorite to win in November.{2}

In a Time Magazine article, the political consequences of this recall election are spelled out thusly:

Walker’s survival would be a blow to his union opponents, who sought his removal not just as retribution but also to demonstrate their clout in “an era when labor’s political muscle has atrophied if not disappeared,” says former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich. “That’s the reason I’m such a target,” Walker says. “If they don’t take me out here, it opens the door” for Republicans–and perhaps some Democrats–to follow his example. Walker has campaigned in a cocoon. He speaks in scripted sound bites, keeps the location of his headquarters secret and shuns rallies that might invite spectacles of dissension. Instead he makes pilgrimages to small businesses, territory both hallowed and safe. On a bright May morning, he was visiting a sheet-metal fabricator on the outskirts of Milwaukee when a factory worker stopped him and placed a hand on his shoulder. “My family and I are praying for you,” he said. Walker looked gratified and a little relieved. If he prevails next week, he may even be vindicated. {3}

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