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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Well-Timed Election

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Even if Wisconsin can't go through the usual slam-dunk re-election of Sen. Herb Kohl, the timing couldn't be better for Democrats to hang on to Kohl's Senate seat in 2012.

Consider three names living in infamy that will play a major role in state and national elections next year: Scott Walker, Paul Ryan and, oh yes, Osama bin Laden.

Let's get the least politically divisive out of the way first.

The fact that President Barack Obama was able to achieve in two years what his Republican predecessor couldn't accomplish in seven—finding and eliminating bin Laden—is boosting enthusiasm for his leadership not only among Democrats and independents, but even some Republicans.

It's true that rave reviews from the national electorate are notoriously fleeting. The first President George Bush's popularity was sky-high after the Gulf War in 1991, yet Bush lost to Bill Clinton a year later.

But the most important issue in next year's presidential election will be the nation's economy. And Obama's foreign policy triumph also coincides with increasingly bright economic news despite anti-American Republicans voting in lockstep against doing anything to ease unemployment.

A successful, popular president driving the top of the ticket will only add to the reactivated enthusiasm among Democrats and other progressives in a series of historic showdowns leading up to the national election.

For that, Democrats can thank Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

Wisconsin Democrats underestimated tea party extremists in 2010 and allowed them to give Republicans control of the governor's office and both houses of the Legislature and replace an outstanding senator, Russ Feingold, with a nonentity, Ron Johnson.

It was an open invitation to Republicans to do their worst, and they seized the opportunity.

Doing Their Worst

Walker immediately attracted national attention—and statewide dismay—by moving to destroy bargaining rights for working people and gutting state aid to education and local governments to create more unemployment instead of the 250,000 jobs he promised during his campaign.

Republican legislators aren't just jamming through every offensive law they've ever dreamed of passing, but are crafting the most extreme versions of those laws in the country.

Their photo ID voting law—part of a national Republican campaign to block voting by minorities, the poor, the elderly and college students who might vote Democratic—won't even accept student photo IDs from most Wisconsin colleges.

A dangerously irresponsible concealed carry law would allow literally anyone to carry a deadly weapon without applying for a permit or undergoing a background check.

Such extreme actions reawakened activism by appalled Democrats and independents, resulting in the largest political protests in Wisconsin history. They also set in motion a series of political events that will provide the perfect prelude to Democratic success in the 2012 fall elections.

The first will be this summer, as recall elections of six Republican state senators offer the best hope for Democrats to take back control of the state Senate and halt the most brazen excesses of Republican extremists.

The Democrats have to win only three of the Republican recalls, a goal that already looks achievable and then some.

Success this summer would provide a head start on organizing and enthusiasm for the biggest state recall of all: recalling Walker in January 2012, after he has been in office for the required full year.

The third infamous political name, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, will make it that much harder for Republicans to achieve success in either the recalls or the fall 2012 elections.

Some pundits immediately dragged out Ryan's name as a potential Republican candidate for Kohl's seat. That no doubt was once Ryan's ambition, but now that seems increasingly unlikely.

Ryan has been exposed as one of the most radical Republican extremists, blowing his cover not just in Wisconsin, but nationwide.

As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan got his fellow Republicans to vote for a toxic budget plan that would destroy Medicare and begin laying the groundwork to start dismantling Social Security as well.

When Republicans voted for Ryan's budget plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program rapidly decreasing in value and shifting health care costs to seniors, angry seniors woke up and attacked. Ryan himself was booed in his own district.

Republicans have been publicly fleeing from Ryan's ideas ever since. Even conservative flamethrower Newt Gingrich, running for president, attacked Ryan's Medicare plan as radical, right-wing social engineering.

Most of the potential Republican candidates for Kohl's Senate seat will have to battle the taint of association with the deeply unpopular right-wing excesses of either Walker or Ryan.

Meanwhile, several Democratic heroes of the historic battle against Walker—state Sen. Jon Erpenbach and state Rep. Peter Barca come to mind—are well positioned to run against Walker in next year's recall.

And many voters in Wisconsin would welcome an opportunity to return Feingold to the Senate—or anyone else who isn't Walker or Ryan.