Published for WSJ, June 7th, 2012

We’ll be talking about Tuesday’s Wisconsin recall election for a long time to come.

The results were a historic setback for organized labor, which failed to oust Gov. Scott Walker in a citadel of modern progressivism. And how it must have stung that 38% of union households voted for Mr. Walker, up a point from 2010 when he was first elected.

Democratic pollster Doug Schoen on how and whether Scott Walker’s victory will affect the presidential race in Wisconsin. Photo: Associated Press.The election has implications for November. The Badger State now looks more like it did in 2000 and 2004, when Democrats narrowly carried it by margins of 5,708 votes and 11,384 votes, respectively. President Obama’s campaign now admits Wisconsin is a tossup. That isn’t an encouraging trend in a state he won by 414,818 votes. The recall contest was expected to be close. A Democratic pollster had the race at three points just a few days out. GOP tracking surveys showed the contest tightening as well. Yet Mr. Walker won by 172,739 votes, up from his 2010 margin of 124,638 votes.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Team Obama, after all, has bragged about how strong its ground game is at registering, persuading and turning out the vote.

Last month, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina told congressional Democrats in a closed-door meeting (reported by Politico) that “we’re building the best grass-roots campaign in modern American political history . . . that will help all Democrats up and down the ticket.” Democratic Party Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz also boasted on CNN in May that the Wisconsin recall would be the “dry run we need of our massive, significant dynamic grass-roots presidential campaign.”

There are two possible answers why the “best grass-roots campaign in modern American political history” failed to deliver victory. First, Team Obama’s vaunted get-out-the-vote effort was simply a facade. That’s not likely, since Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democratic candidate, did receive 158,482 more votes than he did in losing to Mr. Walker in 2010.

The other possibility is the Democrats were out-hustled by the Republicans.

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