UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: How The Debt Deal Could Hurt The Wisconsin Recalls

August 2, 2011 2:00 a.m.

Even as Democrats in Washington struggle with what many progressives see as one of the biggest losses their side has suffered in years, liberals in the Midwest are preparing to hand the left one of the biggest wins it has had in ages.

But the perceived progressive failure in DC over the debt ceiling deal could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the wild and crazy Wisconsin recalls, leading to the kind of political domino effect left-leaning critics of the debt deal fear most.

Here’s how the scenario works: as they’re still licking their wounds from a national fight that in the eyes of many Democrats went the Tea Party’s way, progressives in Wisconsin will be trying to pull out their voters for a round of recalls on August 9. That electorate could be underwhelmed now, folks familiar with the recalls say. And that could be the difference between flipping the Wisconsin state Senate away from Governor Scott Walker (R) and keeping it in Republican hands.“There may be some who are sad to the point that they’ll stay home,” Charles Chamberlain, political director for Democracy for America, told TPM. DFA has spent well over a million dollars on the recall races, and expects to spend a lot more as the get-out-the-vote work begins in earnest.

The trouble is, Chamberlain said, the deal cut by President Obama and the Republicans to raise the debt ceiling has many of the same aspects as union-busting budget Walker passed through the Wisconsin legislature, firing up what has become one of the most active progressive battlefields in years.

“No real protections on entitlements. Dramatic cuts out of education. No shared sacrifice,” Chamberlain rattled off. “That’s exactly what happened in Wisconsin.”

DFA’s research has shown voters in the recalls motivated by cuts to programs like Medicare in Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) House budget (which has been the subject of more than one ad the group has run in contest). Behind that, they’re moved by the potential for cuts in education programs as well as policies that adversely affect the middle class workers like librarians and teachers.

Progressive critics have said the deal to raise the debt ceiling could have many of the same effects. And the fact that voters just watched Obama get behind the deal could have a chilling effect on turnout.

But Chamberlain said the deal could also have the opposite effect.

The real parallel here is we’ve got a Democratic party in Wisconsin that’s doing exactly what people want their Democrats to be doing,” he said. Chamberlain said the Wisconsin Democrats’ willingness to shut Wisconsin down over Walker’s legislation offers voters a chance to send a message to national Democrats about how they want them to behave.

Other observers noted that the issues driving the recalls are more state-focused than national, and say not to get too worried about an upset electorate staying home.

The district to watch to see what effect if any the national budget deal has on the Wisconsin recalls is state Senate District 8, home of Sen. Alberta Darling (R). Polls show the race to be extremely close, and turnout could make the difference, observers say.

If voters aren’t feeling particularly like voting for a Democrat after the debt deal, Darling will find herself in a much better position thanks to what compromise looks like in Washington these days.

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