Liberals were forced to hand over gloating rights to conservatives Thursday when the vote tally for this week's Wisconsin state Supreme Court election swung to put conservative David Prosser in the lead by a just 40 votes; he'd been trailing by 204 hours earlier. If the election had been held only a couple months ago, almost no one outside of Wisconsin would have noticed it. But since it came in the wake of Gov. Scott Walker's push to curb public service unions' collective bargaining rights, Republicans and Democrats have looked to the vote to offer solid data on which party has irritated the electorate the most. But Prosser and challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg split the nearly 1.5 million votes cast nearly evenly, and shifting numbers have forced shifting talking points.
Wednesday morning, Democrats were triumphant as challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg pulled ahead of Prosser by 204 votes. Liberals were gleeful. "This is a very significant victory," Wisconsin state Sen. Mark Miller told Slate's Dave Weigel that morning, "regardless of the outcome." (Nice hedge.) Mike Tate, chair of the state Democratic party, said "voters were rejecting Walker's policies." Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall, as the lead narrowed, said the vote was "So So So So Close."
Conservatives tried to downplay the results. Christian Schneider wrote at the National Review that Prosser would have won easily if it weren't for Kloppenburg's huge margins in the county home to Madison, where a lot of union workers live. "Walker," Scheider writes, "laid the blame directly at the feet of the state’s tempestuous little brother, the City of Madison." And Schneider did so, too. "Right now, government employees in Madison run Wisconsin. It's up to Scott Walker and legislative Republicans to wrest control back."