In Tuesday's recall elections in Wisconsin, labor unions missed by a single seat their goal of punishing Republican lawmakers for passing an anti-union bill by stripping them of their majority in the state senate. Democrats snatched only two of the six GOP seats in play--meaning Republicans hold onto their majority by a 17-16 margin. Both sides are declaring victory, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. But most people see the vote as a huge loss for unions.

NBC News' First Read says Democrats and labor showed they can hit back--"But it wasn't a knockout punch." The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza goes further, saying, "If these results stand, its an undeniable defeat for labor and for progressive activists." Sure, they took out two sitting legislators, but "they invested very heavily in taking back the state senate and fell short." How heavily? Mother JonesAndy Kroll reports that the weekend before the election, volunteers for We Are Wisconsin, a labor group, knocked on the doors of 200,000 voters. The state Democratic Party contacted 2 million voters total, with the help of 8,234 volunteers. (Republicans weren't completely out-gunned: Outside groups spent almost $30 million on ads ahead of the elections, and Republicans had a slim advantage in fundraising.) 

The New York Times' Nate Silver says he would "urge some caution in interpreting the results"--special elections offer only very vague clues about what's going on nationwide, and these elections in particular were decided on local issues. But many conservative bloggers won't let Silver rain in their parade. Power Line's Scott Johnson writes, "Despite the fact that Republicans only narrowly escaped the evening with their Senate majority intact, this has to be viewed as something of a grand failure for the Democrats and their paymasters."
 
The Washington Examiner's David Freddoso says this was a battle of ideas, and conservative ones won out. "To be sure, yesterday's contests offered few lessons for 2012, as far as the status of swing-state Wisconsin is concerned. But at the state level, and on the level of ideas, yesterday's elections have deep meaning... we may have seen the unions' high political tide."
 
And Hot Air's Ed Morrissey echoes that analysis:
It doesn't help these progressive activists that [Gov. Scott] Walker and the GOP produced the best budget proposal in 15 years, and that the PEU reform has already begun to save Milwaukee $11 million this year and much more across the state.  It also doesn't help Democrats to have President Obama "leading" us into a credit downgrade, massive deficits, and no apparent plan to pull us out of the economic stagnation his policies have produced. ...
 
Next Tuesday, two more recall elections take place for the state Senate, this time two of the fleabagger seats, thanks to the reaction from the GOP to the union's efforts to recall Republicans. It's possible that the unions will go 0 for 3 in 2011 and end up handing back the two pickups they got last night. The unions will have ended up spending millions to end up right where they began -- locked out of Madison -- while adding a powerful display of electoral impotence to their brand.  
What's next? Plan on talking about Wisconsin straight through 2012. In January, Walker will have been in office for a year--meaning he'll be eligible for recall, which Democrats have said they plan to pursue. The Hill's Cameron Joseph notes that a U.S. Senate seat will be open, and Obama has to hold Wisconsin to get reelected. He continues:
Democrats also hope they can win one or two House seats in the state; they need to win a net of 24 seats to retake control of the House. ...
 
Wisconsin gave President Obama 56 percent of its vote in 2008 and Democratic presidential candidates have won the state in every election since 1984. But Democrats took a beating there in the last election: Republicans picked up the governorship, a U.S. Senate seat, and two U.S. House seats in 2010.