Today’s most important race

What is the most important race in this year’s election cycle? It’s whatever race, if any, determines which party will control the Senate.

But if control of the Senate does not end up turning on one race, then the race for Governor of Wisconsin is probably the most important of the day. For this race could have major implications for the 2016 presidential contest.

Scott Walker is, I think, the only Republican running in a close election who has serious, plausible aspirations for the presidency in two years. But if he loses tonight, Walker is surely eliminated from consideration.

If Walker wins, I believe he will instantly become a top tier candidate for the Republican nomination. His strong stance against public employee unions and in favor of fiscal responsibility should make him highly appealing to conservatives. His success (assuming he wins) in three elections (counting the attempted recall) in a Democratic leaning state should make him highly appealing to pragmatists.

This is true, in my opinion, even if Walker wins only narrowly. Ramesh Ponnuru points out that the last two presidents each won their states convincingly before they ran. George W. Bush won 68 percent of the vote to be re-elected governor of Texas in 1998, and Barack Obama won 70 percent of the vote in Illinois to become a senator in 2004.

But Bush and Obama were running in friendly territory. Walker’s electoral success in Wisconsin, assuming it continues, seems at least as impressive as Bush’s success in Texas and more impressive than Obama’s in Illinois (recall that Obama defeated Alan Keyes).

How, then, does it look for Walker in his race against Democrat Mary Burke? Real Clear Politics rates the race a toss-up. Larry Sabato rates it “leans Republican.” Nate Silver’s crew reckons that Walker’s chance of winning is 75 percent. But this model gives Burke a small edge.

The polls have Walker slightly ahead. In fact, he has led in five of the six polls I can find that were taken in the last half of October. However, in only one of these polls was his margin greater than two points (the margin in the poll in which Mary Burke led was 1 point).

It should also be noted that, as Ponnuru points out, “voter intensity,” which seems to be bolstering Republicans in congressional races, probably does not favor Walker. He is hated by Wisconsin liberals, as evidenced by their effort to recall him. And, of course, Walker does not profit from anti-Obama sentiment in the way that Republican congressional candidates do.

Walker can, however, profit from the improved economy in Wisconsin. As of August, the unemployment rate is that state was 5.6. When Walker was elected governor, the rate was 8.1 percent.

Even so, Republicans should be pretty nervous about this race, in which the stakes for Walker could hardly be higher.

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