For the first time in the state's history, Wisconsin recalled two sitting state senators simultaneously. While it was a difficult and historic achievement in two districts that voted for Scott Walker in 2010, it fell short of the three seats needed to flip the Senate from Republican to Democratic control and put the brakes on Governor Scott Walker's radical agenda.
While Walker's collective bargaining bill sparked the recalls, voters were also worried about the state budgetary moves which cut $800 million from local schools while giving out $200 million in tax breaks for big corporations. No jobs plan (other than tax breaks) has been proposed and, contrary to spin from the Governor, joblessness is growing in this state at twice the rate of the federal level.
Democratic Defense Will Take Priority
The recall task was enormous from the get-go. There have been only 20 legislative recalls in U.S. history. Recalling six Republicans simultaneously was an unprecedented effort. Democrats ambitiously attempted to recall a number of senators in solidly Republican districts, including one district that has been held by Republicans since Calvin Coolidge was President. The incredibly uphill nature of this fight was not well understood by many enthusiastic activists.
The Democrats make the point that "barely scraping by" on their own turf is a sign of weakness for the GOP, and they are right. Senate Republican leader Scott Fitzgerald actually predicted that Republicans would gain not lose seats. The two new Democratic senators may combine with the vote of Senator Dale Shultz -- the only Republican who voted against Walkers collective bargaining bill -- to check some of Fitzgerald's more extreme proposals.
But these gains may be short lived. On the day of the recall election, Walker signed one of the most gerrymandered redistricting maps ever conceived. Although the map will land in court and may be tweaked, it is clear the 2012 elections will be a battle royale for current Democrats just to hold onto their seats.
All Eyes on Feingold
The election results will also give pause to the robust "recall Walker" constituency. These races cost a record $30 million. Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, the real total spent by shadowy groups will never be known. A gubernatorial recall election would exceed that amount at a time when re-electing Obama and holding onto Democratic seats will be the top priority of the Democratic establishment. You can be pretty sure that team Obama –- which has shown little enthusiasm for the Wisconsin fight –- will actively discourage a Walker recall.
So it's not likely to happen unless something major shifts. Major job losses related to the Walker budget or the collapsing economy might be a game changer, as would an announcement by a heavy hitter that they are willing to take on Walker.
All eyes are on former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold. No other candidate has the backing, the money or the gravitas to corral the progressives and the party and use the race as a referendum on the core issue of who is going to bear the brunt of this financial crisis: middle class America or the big banks and Wall Street financiers who got us into this mess in the first place. His handicap? Obama. It will be difficult for him to make a compelling case for change at the same time that a simultaneous campaign is underway defending the Obama record that has done too little to hold Wall Street accountable and yielded too much to the privatizers and profiteers.
Feingold has a lot of career choices, including a much safer run for Herb Kohl's U.S. Senate seat. But it is hard to imagine a more exciting choice than mobilizing a vibrant progressive base in Wisconsin and across the country into a national force to be reckoned with.