Why We'll Never Get to Stop Talking About Wisconsin

The formerly reliable blue state will be a major battleground in 2012

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The thousands of people who gathered for weeks in Madison to protest an anti-union bill have gone home. The legislators who fled the state to prevent the bill from passing have come home. The bill has passed, though a judge has blocked its implementation. But even though the frenzy has passed, Wisconsin appears set to stay with us for a while. Why? Because President Obama will have a hard time getting reelected if he doesn't win the state.

Tuesday's election there--for a state Supreme Court judge and Milwaukee County executive--would have gone without notice if it hadn't been for Gov. Scott Walker's push to curb public service workers' ability to collectively bargain. The vote is now seen as a referendum on Walker and GOP momentum. "The total number of votes cast may be small, but the impact could be huge," Salon's Andrew Leonard writes. He continues:

Whoever wins will receive a jolt of energy, and potentially influence the national conversation. If [the liberal Joanne] Kloppenburg triumphs, the possibility of a successful recall of Republican state senators becomes much more likely, a development that would dramatically change the balance of power in Wisconsin, and might signal a potential national backlash against Republican 'overreach' in 2012. But if [the conservative David] Prosser holds his seat, the Tea Party can rightfully claim to have resisted a major challenge to its newfound political influence.

The fight for Wisconsin will go far beyond labor politics. As Obama launched his reelection campaign Monday, pundits turned their focus to the key battleground states that will decide the 2012 election. They were your usual cast of swing states--Ohio, Florida--plus, you guessed it, Wisconsin. Even though Obama won the state by 13 points in 2008, the recession has hit the Midwest hard, and many who voted for Obama stayed home in 2012, National Journal's Marc Ambinder writes. That's a big disadvantage for the president, Ambinder says, as skepticism "remains intense" there. On the other hand, NBC News' First Read team writes, "If Democrats win one or both of [Tuesday's] races by tying the Republican to Walker, it could be further evidence that Walker is politically toxic in Wisconsin and that Dems have the momentum in the state. And these two contests are just the beginning."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.