Does anyone remember Barack Obama's margin of victory in Wisconsin in 2008? Fourteen percentage points. Let me say that again: Fourteen points! Wisconsin voters left little doubt as to where they stood.
That's what made last Tuesday's statewide Republican sweep so confusing. Republican Senate candidate Ron Johnson and GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker won by nearly identical five-point margins - almost a 20-percentage-point swing from the Obama vote just two years before.
Who exactly are these people - and there must have been hundreds of thousands of them - who voted for Democrats in 2008 and Republicans in 2010? Who once loved Barack Obama's message of expanded government and now flock to Walker's smaller government platform?
I'm guessing these are the same people who stand at the counter at McDonald's and deliberate over whether to get the Filet-o-Fish or the Quarter Pounder with Cheese. And yet, apparently, these are the people who chart the course of America.
It is these voters we have to thank for Sen.-elect Ron Johnson - for some of us, a welcome development. Johnson owes his win to not being Russ Feingold (a claim most of us can make) and for keeping a consistent message on government spending and debt.
Johnson was consistently derided by Democrats for not having detailed plans to solve all the nation's problems - unlike those offered by platforms like "Hope" and "Change." But it seems merely opposing the federal government's current policies was enough to sweep him into office.
While the media's common knee-jerk reaction is to claim the latest election as the "most negative ever," both candidates for Senate ran campaigns they can be proud of. In these pages several weeks ago ("The Case Against Russ Feingold," 10/8/10), I mentioned that the incumbent had a choice: He could run a principled campaign on the issues and probably lose, or delve into more personal attacks to try to move the needle.
In the end, Feingold chose the former - even though he likely knew it wouldn't be enough to overtake Johnson. For that, he deserves credit. He lost like a man.
The November sweep of Republican offices leaves Democrats in an odd position; the only statewide office of consequence they still hold is that of U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl. And Kohl seems like the last politician who will want to carry the Democrats' public-relations mantle forward in the next two years.
This would leave Feingold with an opening to be the principled opposition until 2012, despite not holding office himself. Liberals could do a lot worse.
Christian Schneider lives in Madison, works for the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute and blogs at christianschneiderblog.com.