It's Over for Now in Wisconsin

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 17 2011 11:53 AM

It's Over for Now in Wisconsin

Democrats easily held the two state Senate seats that were up for re-election last night. Public Policy Polling predicted the result; another automated pollster, We Ask America, nearly didn't. That organization burned up the interwebs with a poll showing the most endangered Democrat, Jim Holperin, leading his Tea Party-inspired GOP opponent by a slim 51-49 margin. That gave conservatives some hope that one of the "fleebagger" Democrats could be defeated at the polls. Holperin ended up winning by 10 points.

"It's so hard to tell when you do one poll," We Ask America COO Gregg Durham told me. "One thing you can't judge is what the turnout will be. In this case, unions were heavily involved in turning out Democratic votes. Now, I will stand by the numbers -- this may be what the general electorate wanted, but not what the people who turned out wanted. Did we get more people than we should in one area? Possibly, but we'll never know. I will say that at no point in our polling was Holperin behind. People saw our poll and were asking me if I thought this Republican [Kim Simac] would win. I said absolutely not. I told them, she had a chance."

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If Democrats really beat expectations by turning out more voters -- a week after they aimed and missed at actually taking the state Senate, something that should have depressed them -- it speaks well for their next effort. Republicans and conservative organizations started organizing recall petitions first, betting that voters would be angry at Democrats for leaving the state to stop the budget repair bill. Not really; there were more voters angry at Scott Walker's reforms than there were voters angry at the Democrats. Not enough of them, not enough to reel in the state Senate or win a state Supreme Court seat. So Wisconsin told us what we expected a couple of months ago. Union money is being matched or outmatched by money from conservative organizations, but union turnout operations are outmuscling conservatives an the Tea Party.

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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