Even so, Republicans should walk away with questions of their own. One is about interpreting their mandate. There was a price to pay in Wisconsin on Tuesday for the party's agenda: two seats. What was a comfortable 19-14 majority will be a tight, 17-16 majority, unless the GOP can defeat one or both of the Democratic senators facing recall elections next week. Among the chief criticism from Walker's opponents: He didn't make his agenda explicit in his 2010 campaign. When voters elected Republicans up and down the ballot in Wisconsin last year, were they embracing a tea party agenda? Or merely expressing unhappiness with President Obama's party?
For Republicans, the losses in Wisconsin could have been far worse. Other Republican governors across the country facing early some early anger in their home states - Kasich, Rick Scott of Florida, and Rick Snyder of Michigan - can take away some hope that their austerity measures, while prompting some early backlash, ultimately will be accepted.
Democrats' ability to pick up two Republican seats is not insignificant, especially considering how rare it is to recall state legislators. But a third win would have given Democrats a much more tangible boost, and added momentum toward what many state party activists see as the ultimate goal: a recall of Walker himself next year.
While a recall effort against Walker next year isn't out of the question, the prospects are diminished by the Tuesday's outcome. Following a year in which they fell short in a state Supreme Court race and recall elections that were aimed at repudiating the governor, liberals will have to decide whether it's worth the effort and expense to take aim at him again -- especially in a year when Democrats will want to keep the focus on holding onto the White House.