Un-Great Scott

What Does and Doesn't Matter About Wisconsin

06.04.12 6:22 PM ET

What does matter: If Scott Walker wins Tuesday, as it's expected he probably will, it's bad news for public employees and poor people everywhere, especially in all these states where there's basically no hope of anything but a Republican governor and where they're hoping for a Walker win so they can replicate some of his schemes.

I was in Illinois over the weekend. I was reading that they're skirmishing about state pensions. Governor Pat Quinn, a Democrat, wants to raise the state employee retirement age and pension contribution of employees. The state's five pension plans have an unfunded liability of $83 billion, so something needs to be done. Quinn's recommendations are fine by me. I am pro-union but I recognize (in general, and without specific reference to the exact situation in the Land of Lincoln) that pension problems in many states are severe and real and something has to give.

But you do it the way Illinois is trying to do it, and the way many other states have done it. You don't do it by "divide and conquer," which Walker announced as his policy. If he survives this challenge, it'll just be a green light for the Koch brothers and every anti-labor thug in the country to do this in more places.  So that's what matters.

What doesn't matter? First, November. I've said this before, but it's not going to be that close. Obama is going to win by at least five points and maybe 10, and these media reports to the contrary are just foolish--reporters try to sell editors to put their stories on page 1. Even the Times is falling for it. Wisconsin has voted for two Republicans in the last 50 years--Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. (Interesting that Wisconsin rejected next-door-stater Humprhey in 1968, but it did; but that was back when there were progressive Republicans.) Consider this interesting fact.

Wisconsin is one of the few states in the country where Obama won by nearly as great a margin there among white working-class voters (52 to 47  percent) than he did among whites overall (54 to 45 percent). The mere fact that he won among working-class whites means that the kind of button-pushing that works for Republicans among white working-class voters elsewhere hasn't really played in Wisconsin. That may have changed in the tea party era. The state did elect a tea party senator, but that was in no small part because Russ Feingold was aloof and didn't realize he had a race on his hands until it was too late. But whatever the truth there, Obama still has a cushion in the state. Real Clear Politics calls the state a toss-up but it has Obama ahead by nearly five points, a result influenced by one outlier poll that had him up 1 point. In the others he's up 6 or 8 points.

Second, it's also the case that Tom Barrett is hardly the national kind of rallying-cry figure for liberals that Walker is for conservatives. Remember, Barrett wasn't even the liberal-union candidate of choice. George Soros or Peter Lewis may not have even heard of Tom Barrett, let alone doubling down on him, whereas for the Kochs, Walker is their beau ideal. He'll win, assuming he does, because conservatives care more than liberals do about this race. That won't be true five months from now.

So: Wisconsin isn't a swing state and won't be. But the damage will reverberate in several other ways if Walker survives.