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Wisconsin Gov. Walker in line for speaking spot at Republican convention

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s triumph in a Tuesday recall election has cemented his status among the GOP’s “bright, shining stars” and put him in line for a prime-time speaking slot at the national convention in August, Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus said Wednesday.

“He’s got a pretty good advocate here at the RNC,” Priebus told The Hill.

Priebus, who was born in Wisconsin and formerly ran the state GOP there, called Walker a close friend and suggested he would be exactly the kind of person the party seeks to highlight at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.

 “I’m going to do what’s best for winning the presidency, and having a convention with bold leaders and great ideas is something that I intend to do,” Priebus said. “Scott Walker is in the category of bright, shining stars with big ideas in this country.”

Republicans across the country are crowing over Walker’s victory and vowing to replicate his success nationwide, calling it a referendum on GOP efforts to rein in public spending. The massive blow to unions could also deprive Democrats of one of their most effective and best-funded organizing forces.

Democrats insist that special-interest dollars from out of state fueled Walker’s win and that little should be surmised about its implications for the presidential race in the fall. 

But Republicans are calling it a powerful omen that the momentum they had in 2010 has not dissipated.

“Democrats should be shaking in their boots,” said Charlie Black, an informal adviser to Mitt Romney and a GOP strategist. “They did a good job turning out their vote and they still lost big, so where do they go from there?”

Black added that the more than $10 million unions spent on their failed efforts to oust Walker would leave them with less in their coffers to disburse for President Obama in the fall.

For unions and the Democrats who rely on them, the losses on Tuesday were suffered on two fronts. The failure of their massive and costly campaign to recall Walker — which leading national Democrats called a dry run for November — dealt an undeniable blow to the party’s morale and self-confidence, which could have reverberating effects on fundraising and grassroots efforts.

Over the long term, the vote of confidence in GOP-led efforts to curb the power of unions could wreak havoc for Democrats if it leads to an emasculation of unions as potent political organizations.

Although the recall effort against Walker quickly devolved into a national proxy battle between the two parties, it was anti-union legislation championed by Walker that had incensed Democrats in the first place. Walker emphatically cut spending and stripped state workers of most of their rights to bargain collectively through their unions.

The move led the way for other Republican governors, including Chris Christie in New Jersey and John Kasich in Ohio, to launch their own attempts to curtail the bargaining rights of public-sector workers. Both faced heated opposition and massive public protests, but both prevailed — although voters later overturned Kasich’s bill.

Granted their first clear indication that voters are unlikely to punish Republicans for taking on unions, conservative leaders in other states might now feel more confident about pursuing their own efforts to defang unions, Republican operatives said.

“We can’t keep spending money that they don’t have and force people to pay union dues that get used for political purposes. It’s not very American, and that’s what labor has been able to get away with for a long time,” said Henry Barbour, an RNC committeeman and Romney backer.

Although Democrats are working to stop the bleeding by pointing to silver linings from Tuesday’s election — including a recall of a few GOP lawmakers that might have given Democrats control of the Wisconsin Senate — union operatives acknowledged that the repercussions of the GOP’s efforts could extend beyond this campaign cycle.

“There’s no question that this is not about just collective bargaining. This is a huge incentive to take out the funding for labor’s ground game,” said Andy Stern, former president of the Service Employees International Union.

Left unchecked, Stern said, the moves by Walker and others to limit labor could begin to eat into the unions’ turnout machine.

“This is not going to be a 2012 issue, but if this keeps going on, through 2014 and 2016, it will absolutely have an impact on labor’s ability to be successfully supporting their candidates in elections,” Stern said. 

In Congress, Democrats pointed to the robust operation they built during the recall effort as a sign that not all had been lost, despite the inability to remove Walker from the governor’s mansion. They noted repeatedly that Democrats had been far outspent by GOP-aligned outside groups — a factor that will also likely be present in the fight between Obama and Romney. 

“There’s no question there’s disappointment,” said Rep. Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), the Democratic nominee for Wisconsin’s open Senate seat. “On the flipside, there’s infrastructural organization like we’ve never seen it before.”

But Republicans insisted that the election’s deeper meaning portends electoral success for GOP candidates up and down the ballot — that when push comes to shove, voters from both parties will affirm that asking public workers to pay slightly more for healthcare and pensions is not only fair but fiscally necessary.

“We like to say pigs get fat and the hogs get slaughtered,” said Barbour. “And the hogs got slaughtered yesterday.” 

— Kevin Bogardus and Cameron Joseph contributed to this report.

— Updated at 8:45 p.m.

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