A few days before last fall’s election, I knew that despite her high unfavorable ratings, California’s junior Senator Barbara “Ma’am” Boxer was likely to win re-election. While doing cardio at the gym, I looked up to see the career politician rallying union employees at a very professional phone bank.
Each paid staffer sported telephone headsets, while working at a computer in separate cubicles. By contrast, I had just come from spending the afternoon phone banking with other volunteers for the Republican tickets. We used cheap cell phones, lacked headsets, had no computer monitors and worked off printouts.
Thanks to the unions (many with funding directly from the state’s coffers), California Democrats had a more professional Get Out the Vote (GOTV) effort than did Republicans. And in a state where that party has a decided registration edge, such efforts tend to reap rewards come Election Day.
Given unions’ determination to oust Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice David Prosser–and the resources they were pouring into their effort–I was all but certain they would succeed. Those defending the relatively conservative justice were not nearly as fired up as were his opponents. They weren’t pouring the resources into his defense. And they didn’t have, as the unions did, a organization already in place. As Ed Morrissey put it:
Given the usual lack of turnout for April elections in off years, the organizing power of the unions should have been overwhelming, and Prosser should have been toast even in less-progressive areas of the state. Instead, Wisconsin voters thundered to the polls to support Prosser, and Kloppenburg turned out to do poorly outside of Dane and Milwaukee counties — and even in Milwaukee, Kloppenburg led by just a 57/43 margin.
What should have been a slam-dunk if Walker’s proposal was really as extreme and disaffecting as unions claim turned out to be an even split. Given their power and the investment of time and money by the unions, this is an eye-opening stumble.
Perhaps, in a deep blue state like California, unions still have the muscle they once had, but in light blue Wisconsin, their resources no longer give them a decisive advantage.