Given the decisive nature of Scott Walker’s recall victory, it’s not likely that Democrats who were prepared to cry foul if they lost in a squeaker will be talking about a “stolen election” after he won with 53 percent of the vote. Instead, the main Democratic talking point in the days after their recall debacle will be to claim that not only is it not a harbinger of more defeats in November but that it may not even have an impact on how Wisconsin will vote for president. Democrats were encouraged by exit polls that showed President Obama holding a big lead over Mitt Romney among recall voters. However, any liberal enthusiasm about the finding is bound to be diminished by the fact those polls were obviously skewed toward Democrats because the 50-50 split they predicted on the recall was disastrously wrong.
But the White House spin that the recall will have no impact on what happens in the fall is not just wrong because of the faulty exit polls. After months of attempts to interpret Republican and Democratic primary results in terms of their predictive value for a general election, Wisconsin didn’t just provide the country with its first partisan matchup of the year. It was the most bitterly contested state election in years, with money pouring in on both sides from around the country. And rather than being a test of personalities as most elections generally prove to be, the attempt by the unions and their liberal allies to take Walker’s scalp as revenge for his legislative achievements provided the country with a clear ideological battle. In a straightforward battle between liberals and conservatives, the latter won in a state that President Obama carried by 14 points in 2008. Anyone who thinks Obama isn’t in for the fight of his life there this year just isn’t paying attention.
It is true that the size of Walker’s victory was in no small measure the result of moderate disgust at a union vendetta that was rightly seen as an attempt to override the verdict of the voters in 2010. Some of those who cast ballots for Walker may wind up drifting back to the Democrats in November to back President Obama. Yet the Democratic defeat — and the widespread dismay by liberals at the way the president gave the recall his half-hearted support will have repercussions for his party.
Walker’s win is just one more of a string of recent events that are starting to convince the nation that Obama is likely to be a one-term president. Along with the growing list of economic statistics that make a summer economic recovery unlikely, the stunning conservative victory in Wisconsin will make it harder for the president to claim that Republican solutions are unpopular or that support for entitlement reform is a sign of extremism.
Instead of merely a local political fight that got national coverage, the failed recall may prove to be a decisive moment in an election that looked only a few months ago to be the president’s to lose. Though five months is a lifetime in politics, Wisconsin could be the moment when Mitt Romney’s campaign moves into overdrive and the rickety nature of the Obama re-election effort becomes manifest. The presidential election wasn’t won in Wisconsin on June 5, but the recall may be best remembered in the future as the tipping point that transformed Obama from a likely winner to an incumbent headed to one-term status.