There's no question the stakes of the Wisconsin recall are high. As I wrote last week, if Governor Scott Walker survives the election next week—no matter how slim the margin—he's likely to claim a mandate. Since he's already a rock star among conservatives and anti-union activists, Walker would be in a good position to push further right. If he loses, it gives the labor movement one of its biggest victories in years.
However, the fate of Wisconsin is unlikely to determine the fate of the presidential election. It may not even determine the presidential race in Wisconsin.
I realize of course, that a whole lot of people disagree with me. Tea Party groups like Tea Party Express and the Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama have raised significant amounts by arguing that a win for Walker will mean a loss for Obama. When I emailed CDBO leader Joe Wierzbicki about the group's emphasis on Wisconsin, he responded the recall was "the opening chapter in the presidential race." Similarly, DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz took to the airwaves Sunday to say the recall "has given the Obama for America operation an opportunity to do the dry run that we need of our massive, significant, dynamic grassroots presidential campaign." Ironically in a recent email, CDBO called Wasserman Schultz "nasty, vindictive and liberal to boot" for her support for Walker challenger Tom Barrett.
Here's the thing though. Wisconsin has gone Democrat every year since 1988. There are certainly fewer Democrats now than there have been, but it's hardly a battleground state in the way that Florida or Ohio is. If Wisconsin does wind up going red, it will likely be part of a large Republican sweep, a much larger trend than one state's political skirmishes could cause. If Wisconsin doesn't go to Obama, he's probably losing in a big way—and I hate to tell you what that probably means for the economy. After all, jobs and unemployment will probably have a lot more to do with opinions on Obama in five months than an intra-state battle. Even one with national attention.
Back in March, according to the Marquette University poll, Obama held a 5 percentage point advantage over Romney, while Barrett and Walker were almost even. By early May, in the same poll, Obama had gained even more ground, holding a 9 percent lead, while Barrett and Walker remained in a dead-heat. In the most recent Marquette poll, two weeks ago, Walker led Barrett by 6 percentage points, while Obama and Romney appeared even. While the two races are obviously related and a win will energize the victorious side, it's entirely conceivable that Walker could win in June and Obama could still win the state in November. In between, a whole lot may happen.
The recall isn't likely to determine the presidential election. Still, that doesn't mean it won't have a big impact—for organized labor, for Tea Party activists, and for public employees across a state that unions helped build.
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