Wisconsin Democrats Retreating -- but in What Direction?

by Christian Schneider

Former U.S. Marine major general Oliver Prince Smith is famous for his line, “Retreat, hell! We’re not retreating, we’re just advancing in a different direction.” But with major Democratic money interests choosing to sit on the sidelines of the Wisconsin recall election, it looks like the direction they’re advancing might be one without the tens of millions of dollars the national unions had promised.

I explain in today’s New York Post:

On Monday, local party officials began complaining bitterly about the lack of resources national Democratic groups are committing to the recall effort in Wisconsin. “We are frustrated by the lack of support from the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Governors Association,” a top Wisconsin Democratic Party official told The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent.

Back in January, the complaints were coming from the other end: National Democrats were irked that labor unions and others planned to spend tens of millions of dollars to recall Gov. Scott Walker — leaving less for President Obama’s re-election drive and congressional contests.

But amid increasingly poor polling numbers for Walker’s challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Democrats and their allies at the national level seem to be re-thinking their commitment to the Wisconsin race. NBC’s Chuck Todd asked recently if the DNC would be sending more cash to help Barrett; the answer from Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s deputy campaign manager, was strongly noncommittal: “I don’t know the answer to that question, on the money.” 

National groups are looking at the same polling data everyone else is; yesterday, Marquette University released a poll showing Walker ahead by a 50 percent to 44 percent margin. Earlier in the week, Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling showed Walker beating Barrett 50 percent to 45 percent. There hasn’t been a poll taken yet that shows Walker trailing.

#more#Democrats have tried to make the race about anything but public-sector collective bargaining, which is what originally incited government unions to instigate the recall process. Instead, they tried to hammer Walker on jobs, citing a Bureau of Labor Statistics report showing the state had lost over 23,000 jobs in the past year — the most in the nation.

But in the past week, Walker has fought back, releasing data from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages that show an increase of 23,321 jobs from December 2010 to December 2011. Usually, the state polls about 94 percent of its businesses to gauge employment data, then sends the results off to the BLS, who then approves it. In this case, the BLS was scheduled to publish the data on June 28 — well after the recall election on June 5. But the Walker administration clearly thought the data gave a more accurate depiction of the jobs situation, and released it early.

At the very least, the new jobs numbers (approved even by some Walker opponents) have mitigated the attacks on Walker’s job-creation performance. Democrats will now move on to something else, whether it be exhuming the currently defunct “war on women” talking point, or playing up a “John Doe” investigation of some of Walker’s former county executive office staffers.

Whatever route they choose to take, they better have some coupons ready; with their national heavy hitters walking away, they will have to advance on the cheap.

— Christian Schneider is a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute and writes The Yankee Review.

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