Democrats, both buoyed and presumably a bit disappointed by the results from Tuesday's round of recall elections of six key GOP senators, have another reason to be happy.
Sure, it has to sting a little bit to come so close to an unprecedented result like flipping a chamber via recall, only to fall a few percentage points shy. But the good news is that the Wisconsin GOP, in their relief, appears to be learning exactly the wrong lesson from last night's results.
Indeed, it appears as if Republican relief has manifested itself in some truly idiotic spin. Consider exhibit A, courtesy of a Wisconsin GOP campaign staffer:
"I think it's a huge victory for us," said John Hogan, director of the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate. "Voters gave us a mandate last fall. . . . They backed us up again (Tuesday). Voters told us loud and clear, 'Stay the course. Things are working.'"
The detachment from reality here is awe-inspiring. The GOP just went from a 19-14 majority to a 17-16 razor-thin edge overnight, and this guy is reading it as freaking vindication. That's an impressive level of self-delusion.
It's also shoddy political analysis, to boot. On several levels.
First of all, calling this a solidification of the 2010 "mandate" is dumb, because, as it happens, NONE of the class of 2010 was on the ballot last night. These were all Republicans elected in 2008. This, in itself, demonstrates the considerable political chops of the Republican sextet, since they managed to claim their seats in what was, on balance, one of the worst Republican election cycles in recent memory.
It's also stupid because, on balance, these were all races fought on Republican terrain. Only Dan Kapanke's district, in normal circumstances, could charitably be described as a blue-leaning district.
And, it is worth noting, that if Hogan wants to claim that this election was a confirmation of the 2010 "mandate," he is going to need to explain how, in five of the six districts, the GOP incumbent performed worse than their GOP counterparts from 2010. In some cases, dramatically so:
Comparison of Republican/Democratic Margins, 2010 General vs. 2011 Recall
2010 Gubernatorial: Walker (R) +16.1%
2010 Senate: Johnson (R) +18.6%
2011 Recall: Cowles (R) +20.8%
2010 Gubernatorial: Walker (R) +9.0%
2010 Senate: Johnson (R) +8.5%
2011 Recall: Darling (R) +7.3%
2010 Gubernatorial: Walker (R) +18.4%
2010 Senate: Johnson (R) +16.9%
2011 Recall: Harsdorf (R) +15.3%
2010 Gubernatorial: Walker (R) +16.5%
2010 Senate: Johnson (R) +16.3%
2011 Recall: Olsen (R) +4.3%
2010 Gubernatorial: Walker (R) +15.7%
2010 Senate: Johnson (R) +19.0%
2011 Recall: King (D) +2.2%
2010 Gubernatorial: Walker (R) +0.7%
2010 Senate: Feingold (D) +1.7%
2011 Recall: Shilling (D) +10.8%
To sum it up, outside of Cowles, the other five Republicans underperformed their 2010 colleagues, despite being incumbents (neither of the 2010 Republicans were incumbents). The degree of underperformance varied wildly, ranging from a point or two to an underperformance of over 20 points in SD-18 by Randy Hopper.
If the Democrats can fend off both of their recall elections next week (and kudos to Brainwrap for reminding us that the Wisconsin recalls are not over yet), they will have shaved the GOP Senate majority down to a fractional one, and they will have done so in hostile territory.
I can see why the Republicans would be relieved, but it seems silly to be claiming it as some kind of legitimate victory.