The results from the Wisconsin gubernatorial primary are in, and unions were dealt a serious blow—their preferred candidate in the Democratic primary, Kathleen Falk, was soundly defeated by Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who received 58 percent of the vote to Falk’s 35 percent. While Barrett has pledged to roll back many of Governor Walker’s policies, he has tangled with the unions before and is widely viewed as a less pro-union candidate than Falk, who received about $4 million in support from labor groups, Politico reports. These results are the clearest sign yet that even in the union strongholds of the Midwest, unions are losing their hold on the Democratic party.Yet this isn’t even the worst sign for Wisconsin’s unions. Many papers have noted the decisive victory of Barrett over Falk, but fewer have noted the extraordinarily heavy turnout in the GOP primary. As Christian Schneider noted at National Review, Walker was essentially running unopposed, and yet managed to garner 15,000 more votes than both Democrats combined.This is big. Such a high turnout for an uncontested primary is extremely rare, and more likely than not is an example of voters uniting to send a message. Slater writes:
A bit of context: Traditionally, vote totals in contested primaries vastly exceed vote totals in corresponding primaries that are essentially uncontested. Take, for instance, the 2010 gubernatorial election, when Walker faced off against former congressman Mark Neumann, and Barrett ran for his party’s nomination essentially unopposed. Over 618,000 people voted in the GOP primary, while only 236,000 voters cast ballots in the Dem primary, where there was nothing at stake. That same year, Ron Johnson ran in a U.S. Senate GOP primary against several other candidates, while incumbent Russ Feingold was unopposed. The GOP primary drew 596,000 voters, while Feingold garnered only 224,000 votes. The Republican gubernatorial and Senate primaries drew 263 percent and 266 percent more voters, respectively, than the Democrats. […]Yet last night’s primary saw something very different. Last night’s Democratic turnout for a contested primary (Falk, Barrett, and lesser candidates Doug La Follette, Kathleen Vinehout, and Walker’s liberal primary challenger) only surpassed Walker’s vote total by 8 percent. Furthermore, the Democratic vote total was likely padded by Republicans who crossed over to vote for Kathleen Falk, sensing she would be an easier challenger for Walker to defeat in June. (In the absence of exit-polling data, we will never know how many people were in this category; but in the days leading up to the primary, it was a very real debate among Republicans.)
This is indeed a surprise, and it suggests that Democrats have a lot to do before the general election. With the primary over the party will now close ranks around Barrett, but the long confrontation seems to have left the GOP based at least as motivated and mobilized as the Dems.The battle with Scott Walker is one that the labor movement feels it cannot afford to walk away from — but it is turning into a very difficult battle for labor to win.