The Late Night Obsession Over a Tiny Wisconsin Election

The vote--called a referendum on Gov. Scott Walker--is still too close to call

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Washington reporters were up way past their bedtimes Tuesday night as they watched returns for a Wisconsin election that normally wouldn't have gotten A-1 treatment even in local papers. But the race between state supreme court judge David Prosser and challenger JoAnne Kloppenberg had been declared a test case to measure the political fallout from Gov. Scott Walker's push to curb the power of public sector unions. With 99 percent of precincts reporting at 3 a.m., of the 1.4 million votes cast, Prosser was ahead by just 585 votes--too close to call. A Bush-Gore-level nail-biter, minus the long-term global implications. So why all the fuss? Even after the hours of obsessive coverage, no one's quite sure of that yet.

D.C. bloggers huddled over their laptops as if it were a presidential election night as the vote tally fluctuated. Wisconsin-related hashtags carpetbombed Twitter. Talking Point's Memo's Josh Marshall wrote posts headlined "Wisconsin Election Blogging"--divided into Parts 1 through 6, the latter posted at 2:21 a.m.. The final missive came at 3 a.m., with Marshall forecasting a recount. "We should have a bit better sense of where this is going in the morning. But hard to imagine this one is really going to be settled for a few days."

Dave Weigel was equally dogged in watching the numbers roll in. His 1,115-word liveblog compared the county vote tallies to those from the 2004 presidential race and the 2010 gubernatorial election. At 1:13 a.m., Weigel gave up: "There are reports of hand counts in Eau Claire, absentee ballots in Milwaukee, and other results that could shift the balance. It's only past midnight in Wisconsin, but it's unlikely that this will be resolved cleanly tonight." Around the same time he tweeted "On Feb. 15, Prosser won 55% of the vote to 25% for Kloppenburg. #fail #justnotsurewhofailedyet"

At about 2 a.m., Allahpundit, of the conservative blog Hot Air, began to get nervous: "Loooong time since the last precinct reported..." he tweeted. A few minutes later, he grew more panicky: "Soooo ... has the AP given up on updating or what?" Relief (and tweets!) followed, however, as five more precincts rolled in. On Hot Air, his election-night post had a mere 10 updates. Allahpundit signed off at 2 a.m., leaving sleep-deprived readers this nightmare-inducing question: "What happens if the state supreme court has to decide the election--and deadlocks at 3-3 after Prosser recuses himself?"

In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Politico's Ben Smith pondered an alternative history: "I wonder how different Bush v. Gore would have played in a world of Twitter and instant, universal access to precinct-level results." A dream for some, a nightmare for others.

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