Taking stock after Gov. Scott Walker's win in Tuesday's recall election, the leader of the largest federation of unions in the U.S. downplayed the implications of the labor community's loss in Wisconsin, saying Wednesday that a recall election was a rare situation and not a "crystal ball" for the November elections or anything else.
"Last night's results were not what we had hoped for. But this is not the end of the story, but rather the beginning," Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said on a call with reporters. "Let's not get too carried away with what this means. Recalls are tough to win ... This isn't the crystal ball. This is a very unique circumstance."
Walker, a Republican, managed to fend off a massive recall effort, topping Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) by a 53-to-46 percent margin in Tuesday's vote. Walker's troubles started last year after he spearheaded a successful effort to strip many of Wisconsin's public-sector workers of their collective bargaining rights. With the support of labor groups such as the AFL-CIO, Wisconsin activists collected enough signatures to force the recall election but ultimately came up short.
In the run-up to the vote, plenty of analysts cast the recall as a pivotal moment for the American labor movement, but Trumka insisted that Walker's win says little about President Barack Obama's prospects against Mitt Romney or any battles facing labor in other states. He was also careful to note that Republicans had to pour more than $45 million into the race to help Walker save his seat, and that labor groups found a smaller but still significant victory in Democrats apparently winning control of the state senate through other recall races. (The vote in one pivotal race hasn't yet been certified.)
"We knew a recall election would be tough and that we would be outspent," said Trumka. "But the best-funded politician in state history spent more than $50 million to hold onto his office, but he could not hold on to a majority in the state senate."
Mike Podhorzer, the group's political director, added that Wisconsin was merely "the opening shot" in labor's grassroots efforts for the November elections.
Trumka hasn't been the only leader on the left to downplay the import of the Wisconsin results. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, has also insisted that a Walker win wouldn't mean much for Democrats at large or the president. Obama himself, while endorsing Barrett over Walker, kept something of a distance from the Wisconsin recall efforts.
Trumka was asked Wednesday whether the president should have provided Barrett with more support.
"I think there are probably some mixed feelings," he said. "Some will say he should have been involved more, and some will say he shouldn't have been involved more ... We're not trying to go back and second guess anything."
Following an exit-poll report that Walker had managed to win 36 percent of union households, the AFL-CIO said that its own polling showed such a figure may have suggested more union support for Walker than there really was. Guy Molyneux of Hart Research Associates, the firm that did polling for the AFL-CIO, said that of nearly 400 union members polled -- as opposed to union households, which would include the relatives of union members -- roughly 75 percent had voted for Barrett over Walker. He also said that 76 percent of those polled believed that Walker had done more to divide Wisconsin residents than unite them.
As for the recall results, Trumka said the AFL-CIO didn't regret any of its efforts.
"We didn't decide on this recall -- it was the workers in Wisconsin," Trumka said. "Would we support them again in this? Absolutely. Would we do anything differently? Hell, I don't know if we'd do anything differently."
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