Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker was projected to win Tuesday night's recall election, but not win this big. His 7-point victory (53% to 46%) suggests a serious challenge for Obama and the Democrats come November.
This is a big triumph for Walker, the Republicans and Romney. And they know it. Romney has every reason to crow as he did on Twitter last night – “Tonight’s results will echo beyond the borders of Wisconsin.”
By winning by 7 points and defying the early rounds of exit polls that showed the race was tied or +4, this is a clear improvement from 2010 for the Republicans. It is an unquestioned victory and will most certainly embolden Republicans going forward to do more collective bargaining reform.
The Wisconsin result is also a major setback for the Democrats and labor. As Walker challenger Tom Barrett said in his concession speech, the Democrats must “remain engaged,” but there is no doubt that last night’s result poses a serious challenge to them going forward in Wisconsin and on the national stage.
Although he has remained quiet, the results from last night are a clear warning to President Obama, both for the national results and for the state of Wisconsin.
It is clear now that the initial wave of the exit poll showing Obama with an 11-point lead is almost certainly an exaggeration. Indeed, the weighted numbers showed his margin coming down to 7 points. In that the exit poll for the gubernatorial race it underestimated Walker’s margin of victory between 5 and 9 points so to, I would suggest, there was a similar exaggeration in the presidential race.
If we then assume, for the sake of argument, that the exit polls similarly exaggerated Obama’s lead over Romney, Obama’s initial 11-point lead that the exit polls showed would drop to between 2 and 6 points. This would then put Obama’s actual lead in Wisconsin in line with the Real Clear Politics average of about 5 for Wisconsin.
Extrapolating nationally from these trends it is probably a safe conclusion to say that, if anything, the Wisconsin election demonstrates that the national vote between Romney and Obama is very close to the statistical tie many of the polls are now showing.
The race remains wide open.
So what are the operative conclusions from last night’s election? The Republican Party will be emboldened. Labor and the Democrats will recognize that they need to re-double their efforts to remain competitive in November. The Democrats need more than a ground game -- they need a message, a message they don’t have as of yet.
Finally, with Scott Walker having vastly outspent Tom Barrett and the Democrats, the power of Republican SuperPAC money in November cannot be overestimated. Expect the Republicans to contest Wisconsin vigorously now and in the fall.