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The Permanent Campaign Rolls On

Democrats and their allies in the labor movement fell just short of their goal of recalling three Republican state senators to take control of the Wisconsin Senate. The scope of the recall effort was unparalleled in American history. It targeted nine incumbents (six Republicans and three Democrats), mobilized an unusually high (43 percent) special election turnout, and consumed $35 million ($30 million by more than a dozen independent groups). Two Republicans were recalled but the third survived after a count that extended well into the night.

Governor Scott Walker’s aggressive move to limit the collective bargaining rights of public employees precipitated an extraordinary political backlash that led to the recall campaign. Backers had hoped an initial success in flipping majority control of the state senate would set the stage for a recall of the governor himself next year. Those plans are now less certain as are the overall confidence and energy of his Democratic opponents.

Partisan politics in Wisconsin have been especially intense this year but similar encounters are unfolding in other states such as Ohio and Florida where new conservative governors have moved aggressively to advance their agendas. But Washington remains the epicenter of ideologically polarized, sharply partisan politics and policy making. The election in 2010 of a Republican majority in the House of Representatives has supercharged what has been a longstanding permanent campaign within the legislative process. Hostage-taking, nullification of laws enacted by a previous Congress, and threats of impeachment have joined the more routine strategic opposition to presidential initiatives and the use of votes to frame issues for the next campaign. Governing has become more a weapon in an all-out war between the parties, in Washington and across the country, than a means of dealing responsibly with the challenges that confront the country and the globe. Don’t expect that to change before the 2012 election.