I’ll be honest, after the labor-backed candidate for governor in Wisconsin lost the Democratic primary in a recall election that was happening because of an assault on workers’ rights and public sector unions, I paid significantly less attention to the race. And even before that, once the choice was made by labor unions and Democratic operatives to turn away from direct action and popular protest following the occupation of the capitol in Madison, and instead focus energy on Democratic electoral gains, I was turned off from this fight. Don’t get me wrong – I still wanted Walker to lose. Now I’m hoping that he gets indicted and soon.
But last night’s elections reveal a number of really big problems. Looking at the final results, with Walker winning by around 7%, there are incredibly disturbing numbers that pop out of the exit polling. 36% of union households voted for Walker.
17% of Obama supporters voted for Walker. Unions, despite being overwhelmingly Democratic, map fairly well onto the partisan divide and it isn’t shocking that over a third of union households voted for a Republican, though it is depressing. But Obama supporters voting for Walker? That’s pretty terrifying if you believe that Democrats support workers’ rights and labor should be allied with the Democratic Party.
Of course it also isn’t surprising that a President who hasn’t done anything to aid labor – no effort on Employee Free Choice, no meaningful effort to improve the NLRB or get good rules out of it – would attract people who vote for a union-busting Republican.
There’s a big problem when the biggest argument in an election is “Defeat the bad guy,” with no compelling vision for how the Democratic candidate is going to affect change. Even had Barrett won, he wouldn’t have been able to reverse Walker’s union-busting legislation, as the Republican still control the state Assembly. The only demonstrable gain that would have happened would have been a cessation of Walker’s union-busting agenda. Evidently that was not compelling enough for all Obama supporters or union households to vote for Barrett.
The volume of outside case also played a role in the outcome. Walker outspent Barrett by around 8:1 and there was tens of millions of dollars in outside spending benefiting Walker. That’s certainly a tough environment to win in, but I don’t think it was in itself determinative. The bad dynamics, the lack of a way for the election to change, the establishment candidate who wasn’t backed by labor, the fact that Barrett had lost to Walker less than two years ago…these all added to the reasoning for the loss. There will be many post-mortems today. I’m really sorry for the people of Wisconsin, especially those who worked for the last 18 months to stop Scott Walker. But perhaps trying to elect more Democrats wasn’t the answer needing to emerge from the occupation of the capitol in Madison.