If history is written by the winners, this was the night for the governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, to add his name on the ledger. On June 5th Mr Walker faced a recall election to drive him out of office—only the third attempted recall of a governor in America’s history. This was prompted by statewide outrage when, last year, the pushy Republican brought in a law curbing the collective-bargaining rights of public-sector workers. Mr Walker defeated his opponent, Tom Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee—Wisconsin’s biggest city—by seven points, a wide margin. No governor has survived a recall before, but in a political campaign that has drawn, by the latest accounting, an astonishing $63.5m in funding—most of it from outside groups—Mr Walker outspent his opponents six or seven times over.
Yet there is both more and less to Mr Walker’s victory than first appears. It is certainly culturally significant that the first state to allow collective bargaining, the birthplace of the American Progressive movement, has failed to oust the union-busting Mr Walker. And the defeat has inflicted a painful blow on the unions. But this was never going to be a precise answer to the question of whether public-sector workers are overpaid, or to the question of what is fair in times of austerity. And, crucially, Mr Walker had exempted the most powerful public-sector unions, the police and firemen, from his new laws. The fight in Wisconsin was about fiscal conservatism, jobs and the economy. The governor was able to stand on a platform that included recent cuts to property taxes and a newly healthy state budget. His opponent, meanwhile, had a month to sell the idea that he was Mr Nice to Mr Walker’s Mr Nasty.