Salena Zito

“At this point, it's mainly helping to energize our base,” said one respected strategist for Democrats. “In Wisconsin in particular, Walker's over-reaching and intransigence is helping with independent voters.”

He admits that he needs to see more of a national pattern before he can predict a momentum shift toward Democrats among indies.

An equally respected Republican strategist agrees: “All the polling shifts I have seen thus far reflect Democrat base intensity coming back ... the downside with independents will be if we cave in Wisconsin.”

Republicans won in 2010 because they got some credibility back with independents on fiscal matters.

But it's probationary: If the GOP loses its distinction from Democrats on fiscal responsibility, then independents will vote on other issues in 2012 – and that will be bad for the Republican brand.

Republicans must constantly remind voters why their elected officials are having these debates: to prevent government unions from locking governors into irresponsible contracts requiring tax increases.

Yet Republicans cannot be seen as trying to "bust" unions for fun or for political gain; independents will be with the GOP on this only if they think the motive is correct.

Despite the big love that Big Labor has given Obama, he hasn't passed card-check legislation, nor will he get anywhere near to doing so until at least 2013 – if ever – if the U.S. House and Senate maintain the same Republican numbers.

He did throw unions a sizable crumb, however, by unionizing 43,000 TSA government workers last month.

Privately, union leaders still are skittish about their relationship with Obama, however.

To them, the president’s decision to drop highly respected economist Paul Volcker as head of his economic advisory board in favor of General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt – who says his corporation derives 60 percent of its revenue from overseas operations – doesn't appear all that union-friendly, which might make unions sit out another electoral round.


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.