Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

GOP shouldn't get cocky over vote

By Ilyse Hogue, Special to CNN
updated 1:39 PM EDT, Wed June 6, 2012
The GOP should take heed since exit polls show Wisconsin voters still back President Obama and unions, Ilyse Hogue says.
The GOP should take heed since exit polls show Wisconsin voters still back President Obama and unions, Ilyse Hogue says.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ilyse Hogue: Bush mistakenly took 2004 win as mandate; Walker shouldn't do same
  • She says Walker won, but exit polls show more voters still support Obama, unions
  • She says Walker's win is better measure of effect of GOP's spending to push back recall
  • Hogue: All evidence shows results far more complex than GOP admits

Editor's note: Ilyse Hogue is the former director of political advocacy and communications for MoveOn.org. She has been a senior strategist to a number of Democratic and progressive groups, including Media Matters for America, Public Campaign and Rebuild the Dream. She is a regular contributor to The Nation magazine.

(CNN) -- In 2004, when President George W. Bush was re-elected by 3.5 million votes, he had a message to deliver about the mandate he had won. "I earned capital in this campaign, political capital," he said, "and now I intend to spend it."

I suspect Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is feeling similar vindication Wednesday morning after decidedly winning his recall election. Walker -- like Bush -- uttered the requisite token sentiment about governing toward consensus and bringing people together in the wake of a fractious election, but all signs point to him pursuing his single-minded, slash-and-burn campaign against organized labor and his efforts to balance the state's budget on the backs of poor and working people.

Analysis: Wisconsin now tougher for Obama, still uphill climb for Romney

Walker won with just over 53% of the vote in Wisconsin Tuesday. That's a definitive victory. There will be no recounts, and charges of voter suppression efforts -- which should be aggressively investigated anyway -- are not significant enough to reverse the outcome.

Ilyse Hogue
Ilyse Hogue

But the Republicans and the governor himself overinterpret the governing "mandate" at their own peril. This was not a referendum on all Democrats. In fact, exit polls showed that 18% of Walker voters favor President Barack Obama. Most see the president as the candidate to move the economy and help the middle class, and if the election were held tomorrow, by these numbers, Obama would take Wisconsin again.

More significantly, with the margin of 7%, that still leaves an obvious 46% of Wisconsin voters at odds with the governor's agenda, many with an extreme intensity that fueled an unprecedented ground game on behalf of challenger Tom Barrett.

But what if the numbers are actually higher than they appear at first glance? Despite a campaign filled with union bashing and gleeful Mitt Romney staffers Tuesday night unbecomingly tweeting that unions should "pack it in," exit polls show that a slim majority of voters Tuesday actually support public employee unions. In fact, the union seemed to be less on trial Tuesday than the recall itself.

A driving force among Walker voters appeared to be a feeling that the recall effort was an inappropriate and expensive tool to resolve the differences in the state that led to the historic protests last winter when Walker announced he intended to end collective bargaining for most public workers. Some voters felt that recalls should only be used in cases of "official misconduct," not disagreement on policy issues.

Misconduct is in the eyes of the beholder, as is obvious by the high intensity behind the recall campaign. Some 900,000 people in Wisconsin signed the dotted line to hold this recall election. Still, the distinction is a critical one. Unions have been the subject of incessant bashing in this election and for the last decade. It's not shocking that Republicans have zeroed in on these organizing institutions, given unions' historic financial and volunteer support for Democratic candidates, who more often share their interest in supporting the rights of working people.

The demonization effort has been astonishing given that we're talking about teachers and firefighters and bus drivers and all of the other folks that make daily life easier, more productive and safer for the rest of us Americans. And it's worked enough that all of us who want to continue to see workers compose a strong middle class need to think about how we communicate the value of organized workers to the American economy and to the American way of life.

But has it worked that well? According to the Center for Public Integrity, Walker raised and spent about 10 times as much as Barrett did on this election. Sixy-six percent of those donors came from out of state, as opposed to Barrett's 74% in state donors. That doesn't even include the outside groups spending enabled by Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruling on campaign spending. Outside groups supporting Walker spent more than three times more than outside groups supporting Barrett. Even with that enormous disparity in the communications capacity of the efforts, most voters in Wisconsin do not have a problem with labor unions, the chief punching bag of the right.

But they do seem to have a problem with the out of control spending that comes along with these elections. This effort overall was 70% more expensive than the state's record-setting gubernatorial election in 2010, so it is really no wonder that voters feel disgusted to see cash going toward an election rather than solving the problems they face every day.

The recall election was not a mistake. When 65% of voters turn out in a special election, it's a much needed moment of accountability. But the cost of the election may have rankled voters who have been subjected to endless cuts in service as Walker has struggled to make good on his promise to balance the state budget. His dedication to tax cuts for the wealthy while imposing austerity measures still leaves a hole in the budget of $143 million, while job loss has been steady for six months, giving Wisconsin one of the worst records in the nation on employment.

All evidence points to the election results as far more complex than the Republicans want to admit. The Walker team will undoubtedly enjoy the afterglow of Tuesday night's victory. However, they would be foolish to move full steam ahead with their agenda to dismantle the labor infrastructure that built and maintained a robust middle class in this country.

Most Americans want that just as much as they wanted a 100-year war in Iraq that cost the country far too much in blood and treasure. If Walker has any doubts about that, he should pick up the phone and ask Bush how the next four years turned out for him and his party.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ilyse Hogue.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:27 PM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
updated 11:17 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
updated 10:05 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
updated 8:03 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
updated 6:27 PM EST, Sat December 27, 2014
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
updated 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT