Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker easily won his recall election last night, dealing a morale-killing blow to Democrats and labor union supporters. He defeated Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett by a margin of about 172,000 votes (53 percent to 46 percent), ending what became a nearly 16-month challenge that began when Walker and the Republican legislature stripped some collective bargaining rights from public employee unions. Walker, who has been in office less than two years, has spent nearly his entire administration embroiled in this recall fight — a fight that turned into a battleground for the national debate between conservative and liberal views about the role of government.

What lessons can be drawn from the results depends greatly upon who you ask, of course. The temptation is to see the recall as a proxy for November's presidential vote, but much of the evidence suggests that the this is a special case that tells us little about national politics. Some voters said they were simply voting against the very idea of recalls.  FiveThirtyEight says that gubernatorial votes might actually have a reverse indicator for presidential elections, and exit polling from last night said that Barack Obama has a much wider lead over Mitt Romney than most traditional polling had shown to date. William Galston at The New Republic argues that it does shows us signs, not about November vote totals, but about tactics and attitudes heading into the general election.

Others dug up meaning wherever they could find it, naturally assuming that the vote supported what they already believed. Many state liberals blamed the loss on money, as Barrett was outspent by more than 2-to-1 overall and 7-to-1 on television ads. Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus saw the result as evidence of a Conservative resurgence in the state, which has been won by a Democrat in every presidential election since 1984. Sean Hannity called it a "repudiation of Big Labor" while Rachel Maddow insisted this was nothing but good news for the President. (Dylan Byers at Politico writes that it was not partisan cable TV's finest hour.)

Any left-right message was further muddled by the apparent defeat of Republican state Senator Van Wanggaard in a related recall vote, which would swing the Wisconsin State Senate back to Democrats.

The only thing that is clear is that liberals in Wisconsin were clearly disheartened by the result. One supporter even slapped Barrett after his concession speech, scolding him for giving up when some late voters were still at the polls trying to cast their ballots. Another emotional voter declared that "democracy died tonight" and "the end of the U.S.A. as we know it just happened." Whether this setback leads Democrats to redouble their efforts to ensure Obama carries the state this fall or has sapped their strength for the fight ahead remains to be seen.

Ed Schultz image via Brian Stelter