A daring effort by Democrats to oust a group of conservative Republicans in Wisconsin's state senate narrowly failed yesterday, a setback that seems to confirm the resurgence of the right nationwide and spell trouble for Barack Obama whose re-election strategy will rest in part on solid support from the Midwest.
Democrats just fell short of their goal in a tumultuous and expensive recall campaign that had targeted six Republican state senators allied with Governor Scott Walker, who six months ago inflamed the liberal left and triggered huge protests in Madison, the state capital, by pushing through new laws to eliminate the collective bargaining rights of public service workers such as teachers.
Under the recall procedure, a petition with enough signatures can force a special election that would give voters the opportunity to effectively sak an elected official before the end of their term of office.
In the end, voters chose Democrats to replace just two of the incumbent Republicans. They needed to oust at least three to break the Republican majority in the upper chamber of the legislature and thus have some hope of stalling the conservative agenda that has been championed by Mr Walker. That his party resisted the onslaught that drew support and funding from unions and other groups across the country will be a big boost for the governor.
For the Democrats, who face recall elections targeted at two of their own senators next week, the fight will go on with a promised effort next year to wage another recall campaign specifically targeted at Mr Walker.
"The fact of the matter remains that, fighting on Republican turf, we have begun the work of stopping the Scott Walker agenda," said Democratic Party chairman Mike Tate. "We will not stop, we will not rest, until we recall Scott Walker from the state of Wisconsin."
Democrats will console themselves with the knowledge that recall campaigns are a quirk in the democratic system of the US and are only permitted in some states. Moreover they are rarely successful. Only 13 state-wide elected officials have been ousted through such recalls across the country in almost a hundred years.
The drama in Wisconsin has been closely watched in Washington and elsewhere. While his push to repeal bargaining rights has been portrayed by Mr Walker as a necessary step towards cutting public payrolls, balancing the budget and spurring job growth, the left has seen it as a direct assault on the union movement. It is not unimportant that union memberships have long been a pillar of funding for national Democratic Party.
That his majority survived, if barely, was celebrated last night by Scott Fitzgerald, the Republican leader in the state senate. "Republicans are going to continue doing what we promised the people of Wisconsin – improve the economy and get Wisconsin moving back in the right direction," he said.
Thousands of protesters descended on Madison six months ago when the Walker bills were before the chambers. In their desperation to block his agenda, a group of Democrat senators actually fled the state for a while and went into quasi hiding in Illinois in the hope that their absence would prevent any binding votes. Eventually they were forced to return and the bills were adopted.Reuse content