Tonight's recall election in Wisconsin is going to have major ramifications, which we will analyze as the evening goes on and the results come in. They will come in one of three packages: 1) Walker rebuffs the recall threat easily, which will highlight the danger President Obama faces in November from big-money blitzes and ill-will, in Wisconsin and nationally; 2) The result comes down to a tight finish, but Walker survives: that would suggest the prevailing theory, that Obama will not have it easy but should be able to ride incumbency and the weaknesses of his opponent and its party to survive; or 3) Walker loses, in any form or fashion: Wisconsin will go big for Obama in November, the Republicans are going down, and the questions are how big? and Can the Democrats recover control of Congress? (8:00 p.m., polls just closing)
I do not actually think I am overstating the importance of this classic "by-election", because it tests a lot of the real themes of this year's election: the influence of unlimited money, the degree to which the parties can rally their relative voting bases, the leanings of those few true independents who decide close races, and, in particular, the ability of focused campaign efforts to swing those purple states.
If It's Really About Jobs...
Walker should lose, as Wisconsin's economy has recovered worse than most, but in fact his approval ratings have recovered somewhat.
If the national election is really about "jobs, jobs, jobs", they may as well just cancel the whole thing. After watching the Sunday morning talk shows this week, it's clear that neither party has a clue what it will do. Romney's plan is a Bowles-Simpson Lite one: revenue neutral, "everything on the table" (meaning nothing), large unspecified cuts. He gives general support for Paul Ryan's plan without getting too specific. Obama's plan is to take the tax increases and spending cuts that are specified in the agreement/non-agreement and rewrite them, depending on what he can get support for. The way things are looking, Congress-wise, that will be approximately nothing, either in the lame duck session or thereafter. He will advocate investments in infrastructure and the like, but that will be stalled or eviscerated. So, fellow Americans, don't count on any change in the jobs situation after the election; instead, there will be a whole lot of debate before the election which will break new ground in misinterpreting unemployment statistical trends, and a whole lot of money spent to no good purpose: A few jobs at media companies will be saved by the engorged political advertising spend, at least for a little while. .
Of course, there are other reasons to care about this year's election. Mostly they have to do with the tone of civil society, and with the military/foreign policy sphere, in both of which a President can wield real power. Romney's brand of car salesman flim-flam could be effective, Reagan-style, in defusing the intense polarization present, or it could morph into a Nixon-like 1% vs. 99% open civil strife situation. I'm thinking that he would want the former, but the latter is more likely. From a social sense, the other big factor is the power of the President to nominate federal judges, and in particular, Supreme Court judges. I have the feeling that the swing vote on the Court for the last decade, Anthony Kennedy, might be about ready to retire from the wars; whenever he does, there is going to be unparalleled partisan warfare when his replacement is nominated, regardless of the President nominating or the Senate composition at the time.
As for the military-industrial complex, Romney gives plenty of reason for concern. Where Obama's policy has been little short of brilliant, Romney has zero experience and his statements show little depth of understanding or any of the nuance required for successful foreign policy.
The Lessons of Wisconsin (9:53 p.m.)
We still don't know what the final percentages will be--the exit polls which had a very close race were apparently wrong--but Gov. Walker's win seems clear, by a margin somewhere in the range of 7-9 percent. This is very close to the six-point margin in the average of final pre-election polls cited on 538.com. The result is closer to scenario 1) than scenario 2) above. Hence, the following conclusions:
1) Huge money moved support back to Walker, through the combination of ads and a massive turnout campaign by the Republicans. This effort will be duplicated in the general election, and Obama's forces will be desperately hawking money in every corner from now until November.
2) Organized labor continues to lose political ground against the forces of large wealthy entrepreneurship. Romney will embrace the latter; will the labor movement and Obama unite effectively, or not?
3) Wisconsin will be a hugely tempting gambit for both parties, but the election will be decided in Ohio and Florida.
4) Obama better stop listening to his cautious advice, get out of the White House, and involve himself personally.
5) Exit polls, and polls in general, should be treated with a fair bit of skepticism; I'm tempted to suggest there may have been a bit of "David Duke Effect" of people saying they supported Obama and voting, privately, for Gov. Walker.
The Coverage, and Other Electoral News
I have to say that CNN's coverage was pathetically bad; what I saw of Fox News' effort was frankly more impressive. After all this time, there seemed to be little understanding of what drove the results. A good example was the very interesting, but inconclusive, exit poll results on voters' approval or lack of approval of Gov. Walker's attempts to break the public employee unions. It was a remarkable cleavage issue: the 38 and 37% who strongly approved or disapproved went 90-10 on the recall vote, the 12% each way who mildly approved or disapproved broke 65 to 70% in the same direction. So, Dana Bash said that this issue was not the topic of debate in the final days, instead it was "specifically on general issues". What is that supposed to mean?
As for the New Mexico primary held tonight, I couldn't even find anything on CNN's web site. It is not final, but looks pretty predictable--the Albuquerque district Representative, Martin Heinrich, will take on the former Representative of that seat, Heather Wilson, in a very close Senate contest. As for the seat Heinrich vacated for the Senate run, the leader in the Democratic primary appears to be Michelle Lujan Grisham, who leads one of the most progressive candidates for major office in the nation, Eric Griego. Lujan Grisham is a distant relative of Representative Ben Ray Lujan of our district. The Lujans have been major figures in New Mexico politics, in both parties, for several decades.