"Wisconsin will not be the high water mark of the attack on unions, public employees, and the middle class," Kraig said. "You will see more Walker-like politicians elected in other states, and you will see more current governors taking this type of attack."
When I interviewed Walker a couple of months ago, that was his prediction, too, though he naturally didn't put it in quite those terms. If he prevailed in the recall, he told me, "It suggests to other elected officials that you can tackle tough issues, you can face the wrath of organized special interests like the public employee unions, and ultimately prevail," he said. "They're not going to be able to bully and intimidate people who are trying to act in the best interest of the taxpayers."
It's not only Republican governors, Walker noted, who are pushing to reform the pension, benefit and pay privileges enjoyed by public workers. He pointed to the efforts of Deval Patrick in Massachusetts, Lincoln Chafee (a liberal independent) in Rhode Island, Andrew Cuomo in New York and Jerry Brown in California, all of whom have approached the issue of public sector pension reform, if in less inflammatory manner.
The results for the labor movement, of which the public sector is now the backbone, could be dire. Already, there are signs Walker has succeeded in crippling Wisconsin's unions, whose membership has sharply declined since his reforms made it easier for workers to opt out and harder for the groups to gain recognition. In just over a year, the union representing state workers has seen its membership drop by two-thirds, while the American Federation of Teachers has lost more than a third of the 17,000 members it formerly claimed in Wisconsin, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Does Walker's win mean President Obama is going to lose? Certainly not. Exit polls from Tuesday's vote showed the same electorate that retained Walker would have voted for Obama over Mitt Romney by a wide margin, 51 percent to 44 percent. (Though these exit polls appear to have initially underestimated Walker's winning margin, they were later adjusted to reflect the final vote, and pre-election polls found similar results.) Alec MacGillis has suggested that this may reflect a desire to maintain the status quo among independents satisfied with the general direction of the economy. And November's electorate won't be the same one that retained Walker.
But if the recall is not a harbinger of the presidential election, it is also not meaningless as a foretaste. The massive mobilization drive -- more Wisconsinites turned out for a special election in the middle of June than turned out for the November 2010 election, a shocking feat -- gave both parties a chance to test-drive and fine-tune their sophisticated voter-turnout operations, as well as a peek at what the other side is capable of. One Wisconsin Democrat involved in the presidential election told me the recall has been an invaluable opportunity to vet and refine voter lists. Republicans have similarly been boasting for weeks about the voter-contact operation they activated to get out the vote for the recall.