Wisconsin Recall Races Redux: What We’ve Learned; What It Means

Let’s remember how this all started. Scott Walker and GOP senators tried to ram through a Budget Repair Bill that reversed 50 years of collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin – despite falsely claiming to have campaigned on the proposal – and 14 Democratic senators fled to Illinois to prevent a quorum, and thus a vote on the bill.

A very public standoff ensued. Walker and Republicans considered and tried everything under the sun to get Democrats back to Wisconsin to hold a vote on their union-busting legislation. They threatened to arrest. They passed legislation levying fines. They tried to lure them back by cutting off direct deposit and making them pick up paychecks in person. They denied Democratic staffers parking and copying privileges and considered even pettier moves, arguing “we have to make it hurt for their staff as well.”

When none of Walker and the GOP’s strong-armed tactics worked, they resorted to their ultimate escalation – filing to hold recall elections against the eight eligible Democratic senators in Illinois. Many forget the “Wisconsin Recall Wars” of these last six months were, in fact, initiated by Republicans. Democrats responded in-kind, threatening recall of Republicans backing Walker’s anti-worker bill.

Now that the recall fight Republicans initiated is over, let’s step back and take a sober look at the results. While we are surely disappointed to have fallen just short of a 3rd GOP pickup that would have shifted control of the state Senate, Republicans have suffered an enormous political toll for their attacks on working families. In addition, the results suggest a very favorable outlook for Wisconsin Democrats moving forward. Most notable:

  • Organizationally, Republicans were able to get just 3 of the 8 Democrats they threatened with recalls on the ballot. Despite starting later, Democrats put 6 of 8 targeted Republicans on the ballot in heavily-GOP turf – with record signature totals, collected in record time.
  • In the 3 districts Republicans were able to generate recall elections versus Democrats, all considered swing districts in Presidential years, incumbent Democrats mopped the floor with their GOP challengers. The closest race appears to be Kim Simac, and Democratic performance improved on Walker 2010 numbers by at least 10 points.
  • In the 6 GOP-held recall seats, Democrats went into heavily-Republican turf and ousted 2 entrenched GOP incumbents. Our side came up just short of a 3rd pickup that would have flipped the chamber, narrowly losing a district in which a Democrat hasn’t won since 1896.
  • Democratic challengers gained in every single Republican district over Walker’s performance in 2010, averaging a 4% boost in each, and netting more than 25,000 votes statewide in districts carried comfortably by Walker in 2010.
  •  Scott Walker’s working majority in the Wisconsin state Senate is over. The recall fight picked by Wisconsin Republicans boomeranged on them – fundamentally altering the make-up of the state Senate from a 19-14 Republican majority to a 17-16 advantage. Most notably, the chamber now boasts a pro-worker majority that would not have passed the Budget Repair Bill that touched off this entire fight, given Republican Dale Schultz’s firm opposition to the bill.
  • Scott Walker has paid a huge political price for his power overreach. Over the last 6 months, his polling numbers have tanked, both overall and amongst independents. Walker has consistently polled underwater by double-digit margins, eclipsing the 20-point net negative threshold on more than one occasion. We Are Wisconsin’s internal polling has consistently shown Walker is upside down in every single recall district, including by double digits in GOP-held districts, through our final tracking ending this weekend.

The message from the Wisconsin recall fight Republicans picked in February is loud and clear: Attacking the interests of middle class working families and the politicians who defend them carries a hefty political price, and the voices of workers will not be silenced.