On June 5, Wisconsin voters will head to the polls to decide whether to recall controversial Republican Governor Scott Walker and hislieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch. The current pollingshows a close race. But while it’s not yet clear whether Walker will survive the vote, it’s increasingly safe to declare one winner and one loser from the recall election. The winner is the national Democratic Party, which is already reaping benefits. The loser is the cause of civility in the state of Wisconsin. Democrats may not succeed in removing Walker from office, which would be only the third removal of a U.S. governor ever (following a North Dakota governor in 1921 and California’s Gray Davis in 2003). But the recall vote will likely improve the Democrats’ general election prospects. The June election will be a practice run for get-out-the-vote and other organizing efforts in November. That provides an opportunity to both parties to make sure voters are registered to vote–but it’s Democrats who stand to disproportionately benefit, as they usually have a harder time with voter registration, for various demographic reasons (ie: their voters’ incomes are lower; they move homes more frequently.)
True, if Walker wins, it is possible that the momentum will help Republicans in the presidential contest. But the prospects are much higher that even a Democratic defeat would be helpful. The recall event has already energized union voters, and no doubt Democrats will try to paint Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, as lining up behind Walker and his anti-union efforts.
To be sure, the recall effort does pose risks for Democrats. One possibility that commentators have mentioned is that Republicans in other states will use the same recall tool to remove Democratic governors. (Think of Mark Dayton in Minnesota, for example, who faces a majority Republican legislature.) But this risk seems minimal. There is a reason that there have been only two successful recalls of sitting governors in the last century: It takes time, money, and a lot of voter anger to remove someone from office whom voters have just chosen for the seat. While many opponents of governors talk of a recall, the talk rarely translates into action, and a successful Wisconsin recall is unlikely to change that. It takes an odd confluence of events to produce a potential majority to undo a statewide election.