Today could be the most important day in politics until the Nov. 6 presidential election. Today, voters in Wisconsin will decide whether or not to allow Republican Gov. Scott Walker to keep his job, or allow Democrat Tom Barrett, mayor of Milwaukee, to replace him. This recall election is a repeat of the 2010 mid-term election when Walker beat Barrett by about 5 percentage points, and Republicans swept several state houses across the country, including in WI. However, this election should have a far, far higher voter turnout on both sides than the 2010 election, as officials predict voter turnout to be around 60-65 percent, similar to a presidential election.
There are a few reasons why the Wisconsin election matters so much. It will determine the future of unions and how much power they still have. It is also a test of how well Democrats will do in the post-Citizens United world, as corporations and billionaires can now dump unlimited funds into a campaign. The election also matters because it will probably determine whether or not WI goes for Romney or Obama in 2012. The state has not elected a Republican president since 1984, and the GOP now believes the state is in play, and for good reason.
The political civil war that has exploded in WI began 16 months ago, shortly after Gov. Walker was sworn in. He did inherit a state with a budget crisis, and his solution to that crisis was to strip public sector unions of their collective bargaining rights. As soon as the bill was introduced, the streets of Madison and the capital building swelled with protesters. Eventually, the bill passed, and since then, membership to public sector unions in WI has plummeted. Last summer, there was a recall to replace some of the state senators that voted for the bill. Of the 6 GOP state senators that faced recall, two were replaced by Democrats, and now the state senate has an even split. More Republican state senators will be on the ballot today for recall, and it’s very possible the Dems will win control of the state senate. After the summer recall, activists succeeded in forcing a recall election of Gov. Scott Walker. They turned in petitions with over 1 million signatures.
Unions realize that today’s election matters a hell of a lot. They have spent a lot of time and energy protesting and forcing the recall. They have also poured money in to help Tom Barrett defeat Walker. If Walker does indeed win today’s election (current polls show him ahead by just a few percentage points), then Walker’s agenda will most likely go national. For decades, the GOP has wanted to dismantle unions, which traditionally help Democrats win elections through their organization and get-out-the-vote efforts. If Walker wins, he has succeeded in crushing unions in a state that used to be considered very progressive. It is likely that his tactic of stripping unions of collective bargaining rights will be done by other GOP governors, especially in Florida, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. That will lead to decreased union membership and the very real possibility that unions may not be around any longer in a few years, and if they are, they will have little to no political muscle.
This election also matters because it’s a test of how Democrats will adapt to the post-Citizens United world, the Supreme Court ruling that made it possible for corporations and billionaires to donate unlimited funds to a campaign. So far, Walker has raised over $30 million, while Barrett has only raised about $4 million, according to this article by CNN. The article also points out that about 70 percent of Walker’s donations in the last month have come from out-of-state, including Texan Bob Perry, who created the swift boat attacks on former presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004. Perry cut a check to Walker for $500,000. It’s easy to see why the race is so close. A few months ago, the passion and the energy was on the left and against Walker, but a hell of a lot of money has kept the recall election close. To win elections, Democrats need to find a way to raise Super PAC money and compete with the GOP fundraising abilities. If not, they will lose elections, just as they did in 2010 and just as they may in WI today.
Finally, the election also matters because it will have an impact on the presidential election. The recall is a test of each sides get-out-the-vote efforts. Democrats believe that if they have a lot of boots on the ground, they can defeat Walker and have more success in the November election. However, if Walker wins today, the activists in WI are going to feel demoralized. Will they want to knock on doors for Obama in November? Will they have any energy left? If Walker wins today, it is very possible, maybe even likely, WI will vote for a Republican president for the first time since 1984.
Elections matter, and state elections do have an impact on national elections and the agenda of both major political parties. I do believe Democrats could have done a lot more to help Tom Barrett. President Obama didn’t even stop to stump for Barrett. Last night, he tweeted his support for Barrett, but it could be too late. The only big gun that has assisted the Democratic candidate is Bill Clinton, who campaigned in the state on Friday, but it may be too little, too late. Meanwhile, if Walker wins today, billionaires that want to see unions totally dismantled will encourage other Republican governors to follow Walker’s path and crush unions to the dustbin of history. They will realize that they can indeed buy elections. Pay attention to the results from today’s election for an indication of where this country is headed in terms of workers’ rights and the future of unions, as well as who has the upper hand come November, Romney or Obama.