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Would Democrats Have Been Better Off Letting Scott Walker's Bill Pass?

Wisconsin Democrats

First Posted: 02/21/11 01:30 PM ET Updated: 05/25/11 07:35 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- Perhaps the greatest challenge facing those 14 Wisconsin Democrats who fled the state in order to prevent a vote on an anti-union measure will be the capacity to control the surrounding political narrative.

Veterans of the 2003 Texas quorum break -- meant to stall a redistricting effort by Gov. Rick Perry -- universally noted that the media setup favors the governor. Harold Cook, the top staffer for Texas' Senate Democrats at the time, referred to it as "the home-team advantage." While lawmakers fled for the border, he noted, "the capitol press corps is at the capitol."

For this and other reasons, several voices sympathetic to the Wisconsin Democrats have begun questioning their strategy. This is being done largely from the comfort of anonymity, however: Politico quoted a "top labor official" worrying that if the protests fail to produce results this time, "it opens [the gates] in every state."

In an interview with The Huffington Post, David "Mudcat" Saunders, a longtime Democratic political strategist known for his work with blue-collar voters, had a different take. Rather than worrying about floodgates bursting open, he argued that the best public relations move for the Democrats would have been to simply let Walker's bill pass and then demonize it.

"Sometimes the best punch you can throw is to let somebody throw theirs first," Saunders said. "I would have debated it forever, as long as I could have kept it going, and I would have voted against it. Let the Republicans have their way and then work on getting the state house back and the governor's mansion. But a protest, that can only work so long."

Saunders is known for a unique and often contrarian take on party strategy, but this time his advice has been echoed by a number of Democrats who said they worry about the quorum break being sustained once the protests die down.

But that was before the weekend's demonstrations, which seem to have reaffirmed the convictions of those on the ground. Any second-guessing over tactics has, for now, stayed out of the public remarks of union officials.

"I really do disagree with what he was talking about it," Karen Ackerman, political director for the AFL-CIO, said of Saunders' remarks. "In my experience, it is very important for people to fight back no matter what the odds are, because people start to feel empowered."

Ackerman added that "all eyes are on Wisconsin."

Gerald McEntee, who heads the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, likewise said he disagreed with Saunders. If Walker's measure passes, he said, it will encourage similar moves elsewhere. "And instead of bringing public employees to the table," he said, in Walker's bill, "they have decided to just throw away the table."

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