Leading article: A gentle warning from Wisconsin

 

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Loud cheering from Republicans met the news that the Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, had survived an attempt to remove him by way of a recall vote. His victory, so soon after Mitt Romney clinched the party's presidential nomination, was seized upon as proof that the party has the wind in its sails and could evict Barack Obama from the White House, come November.

A jubilant Mr Romney said that the result would "echo beyond the borders of Wisconsin", and show that "citizens... could prevail against the runaway government costs imposed by labour bosses". But his words also illustrated, no doubt unintentionally, the limits of the conclusions to be drawn from Mr Walker's victory.

It is true that Wisconsin has preferred Democrats in every presidential election since 1988. But it is also regarded as a somewhat unpredictable "swing" state, where support for the two main parties tends to be evenly balanced. It may vote Democrat in the presidential contest, but the current governor is a Republican. And the recall vote, like the 2010 election that brought Mr Walker to office, was fought on local issues – in fact, on one local issue: state taxes and resistance by public sector trade unions to cost-cutting changes in their members' terms and conditions.

Given that US voters, no less than their European counterparts, have been facing painful economic measures and that Americans – Democrats included – are by and large less sympathetic to organised labour and the public sector, it would have been astounding if the recall vote in Wisconsin had succeeded. However much Republicans might strive to present it as such, a state-level recall vote on a very specific issue is no real pointer to the odds in the presidential race.

That does not mean, of course, that the Democrats should dismiss the result as irrelevant. It is a warning shot across their bows and a salutary reminder of the dangers of complacency. But it is premature for Republicans to be rejoicing. Mr Walker was elected governor with a mandate to take on the public sector unions. That mandate has been renewed, but this victory will not resonate far beyond the state line.

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