Just about everyone was claiming victory over the results of Wisconsin’s recall elections.
But the proclamations of conservative voices had a little more gusto because four of the six Republican state senators facing recall won their elections on Tuesday. That means Republicans still control all branches of Wisconsin government, although the margin in the Senate is now just one vote.
That 17-16 divide is likely to hold even after next-week’s two recall elections. The two Democratic incumbents facing recall are favored to hold onto their seats.
The hotly contested recall races were being watched far beyond Wisconsin by many who considered the contests some sort of indicator of the direction the country is moving on the political spectrum.
Lots of emotional investments in elections
From sugar beet workers in the Red River Valley to former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, emotional investments were being made in Wisconsin politics.
Pawlenty has said he “stands with” the policies of conservative Gov. Scott Walker, whose legislative agenda spurred the unprecedented recall movement.
Mark Froemke, a labor leader in the American Crystal Sugar dispute that has left workers locked out, last week said he hoped that the Wisconsin political climate would show that U.S. workers are prepared to rally together.
National pundits have been writing that the Wisconsin races might indicate the strength, or weakness, of President Obama. Wisconsin, after all, could be one of those swing states in 2012.
And because so many were watching — because so many felt that these races had far grander implications than simple, usually obscure local Senate races — money poured into the Badger State. At last count, more than $35 million had been spent on these races, compared with $19.3 million in ALL 115 legislative races a year ago.
So what does the 4-2 split mean?
Not surprisingly, Republican leaders were claiming the victories show that the conservative agenda of Walker has support, despite the huge protests seen at the state Capitol last winter.
“I think it’s a huge victory for us,” John Hogan, director of the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, told reporters late last night. “Voters gave us a mandate last fall. They backed us again. Voter told us loud and clear, ‘Stay the course. Things are working.’ ”
Certainly, in the race closest to Minnesota homes, voters were saying “stay the course.”
Incumbent Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls crushed Democratic challenger Shelly Moore, gaining 58 percent of the vote. The turnout for this race proved to be greater than the turnout for the governor’s race a few months earlier.
‘Stay the course’ theme
In a statement, Harsdorf echoed Hogan’s “stay the course” theme.
“We are beginning to see the budget repairs working,” Harsdorf said. “Wisconsin is going down the right path again.”
And that theme also was being repeated by Minnesota GOP Chairman Tony Sutton.
“Tonight’s election results are vindication that Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators have the support of the people of Wisconsin when it comes to making tough decisions to reduce the cost, size and scope of state government,” Sutton said in a statement. “Like our Minnesota Republican legislators, Wisconsin Republicans are not just talking the talk of structural reform of state government, they’re walking the walk.”
Minnesota College Republicans, who did volunteer work for Harsdorf, were claiming victory for their candidate — and Walker. And taking some shots at unions, which had invested heavily in all of the races.
“This signals a rejection of the unions’ attempt to hijack our political process and reverse Scott Walker’s bold agenda of reform that is saving school districts and counties around the state millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs,” said Ryan Lyk, president of the College Republicans in a statement.
Minnesota College Republicans even dusted off a popular President Nixon-era phrase in talking about the victory: “the silent majority.”
“We were proud to help Sen. Harsdorf defend her seat. . . .She stands for the silent majority of Wisconsinites.”
Democrats had to work a little harder to find a positive spin in the outcomes. But Mike Tate, chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, did give it a try.
“We went on their turf and we won on Republican turf,” said Tate after the votes were counted. “We will not stop, we will not rest until we recall Scott Walker.”
Minnesota’s DFLers, who had worked, in conjunction with Minnesota unions, especially in the Harsdorf-Moore race, were a little more subdued.
Kristine Sosanie, spokeswoman for the party, bluntly said this morning that the results were “disappointing.”
The message for Minnesota DFLers?
“It underscores that we’re going to be united, work hard and take back the Legislature in traditional ways in 2012,” she said.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.