Liberals were forced to hand over gloating rights to conservatives Thursday when the vote tally for this week's Wisconsin state Supreme Court election swung to put conservative David Prosser in the lead by a just 40 votes; he'd been trailing by 204 hours earlier. If the election had been held only a couple months ago, almost no one outside of Wisconsin would have noticed it. But since it came in the wake of Gov. Scott Walker's push to curb public service unions' collective bargaining rights, Republicans and Democrats have looked to the vote to offer solid data on which party has irritated the electorate the most. But Prosser and challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg split the nearly 1.5 million votes cast nearly evenly, and shifting numbers have forced shifting talking points.
Wednesday morning, Democrats were triumphant as challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg pulled ahead of Prosser by 204 votes. Liberals were gleeful. "This is a very significant victory," Wisconsin state Sen. Mark Miller told Slate's Dave Weigel that morning, "regardless of the outcome." (Nice hedge.) Mike Tate, chair of the state Democratic party, said "voters were rejecting Walker's policies." Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall, as the lead narrowed, said the vote was "So So So So Close."
Conservatives tried to downplay the results. Christian Schneider wrote at the National Review that Prosser would have won easily if it weren't for Kloppenburg's huge margins in the county home to Madison, where a lot of union workers live. "Walker," Scheider writes, "laid the blame directly at the feet of the state’s tempestuous little brother, the City of Madison." And Schneider did so, too. "Right now, government employees in Madison run Wisconsin. It's up to Scott Walker and legislative Republicans to wrest control back."
Republican state Rep. Sean Duffy echoed that take when he told Dave Weigel that really, it was a failure on the part of union organizers that Kloppenburg didn't get a clear victory. "What does that say about where Wisconsinites are at, if that's where all the motivation was but that was the vote total?"
Then, Michael Walsh at National Review followed-up Schneider's post with some rather apocalyptic musings: "Wisconsin is a proving-ground for new forms of electoral weaponry, a kind of Spanish Civil War in which larger forces are fighting a proxy war before the big show next year. ... And as we all know around here, the Left never, ever gives up--especially not when their livelihood is threatened; sneering tenacity is just about their only admirable quality."
But on Thursday afternoon, new numbers from Winnebago County put Prosser back in front, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Sharif Durhams reports. The tables turn so quickly! "Lotta liberals who trumpeted Kloppenburg's 204-vote lead are quick to mention that Prosser's 40-vote lead is preliminary. #whatasurprise," David A. Graham tweeted. "Good lord. We might actually win this," Hot Air's Allahpundit posted as the numbers continued to fluctuate. "Union Heads Explode," Jim Hoft headlined his post at Gateway Pundit, before launching into an all-caps announcement of the new vote total.
As counties corrected errors in Kloppenburg's favor Schneider abandoned his restraint, headlining his update on the National Review "BREAKING: Computer Error Gives Prosser 7,381 More Votes, Almost Certain Victory." Almost certain, for sure.