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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

So Close

As you probably know, the recall election involving six Republican state senators fell one seat short of the three needed to flip control of the Wisconsin State State to Democrats, and only a bit over 2,000 votes separated the candidates in the decisive contest. All six districts were carried by Barack Obama in 2008, but also by Scott Walker in 2010, and as Nate Silver has characterized them, they are clearly a bit more Republican than the state as a whole.
Both sides in the particularly harsh political/economic struggle in Wisconsin, which is rapidly becoming a microcosm of the national struggle, will be examining not just the results, but their strategies, tactics, GOTV methods, and paid media investments, for weeks and months to come. Labor/Progressive efforts to boost turnout appeared to have succeeded; turnout across the six districts came very close to that of the 2010 general election, a pretty remarkable development for a late-summer special election. After-action reports will seek to determine whether pro-recall GOTV investments were effectively countered by tea party groups and the local GOP, or created a polarizing atmosphere that boosted turnout across-the-board.
Sheer money was obviously a factor; an estimated $8 million was spent in one district alone (the 8th, won by Republican Alberta Darling in what turned out to be the crucial contest in terms of control of the Senate). It will be a while before the spending numbers can be sorted out, but the CW going into election day was that conservative groups had outgunned progressives financially down the stretch, much as they did in the narrow Supreme Court election in April.
For Wisconsin Democrats, the key question is whether the results justify an expensive and difficult effort to recall Gov. Scott Walker next year. If you extrapolate yesterday’s numbers, a similar result in a statewide race would probably be enough to topple Walker, but it would be very close. In terms of national politics, however, the 2011 recall elections should be viewed as a laboratory for the 2012 presidential election–sort of a Spanish Civil War prior to the big event. Wisconsin is by any definition a state Democrats will have to win in a successful presidential campaign, but more importantly, the resource allocations and messages being tested in Wisconsin must be measured against the many decisions Democrats and their progressive allies must make in a complex national landscape.

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