Just how bad was last week for the teachers unions?

If you listen only to the talking points from the Big Two teachers unions after the drubbing of their candidates on Election Day last week, you would think they were living in an alternate universe.

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American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten declared in an interview with the Huffington Post that the losses suffered by candidates they backed had everything to do with President Barack Obama, with whom they have sparred over the past six years. Said Weingarten: “The dominant feeling going into the polling booth was frustration, and the Republicans were able to make this referendum on the president.”

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia didn’t even bother discussing the results in a YouTube video – other than to mourn the loss of “so many friends” of the union’s aims. The NEA’s political director, Karen White, on the other hand, claimed that last week was the result of “a national mood that was very hard to overcome”. Sure.

You would expect the NEA and AFT to dance around the matter. They suffered near-total defeat at nearly every level. These results portend greater challenges for them in defending their influence over education for years to come.

Even before last week, the two unions knew that the efforts of their joint Montana affiliate to keep the state’s U.S. Senate seat in Democratic hands would come to naught. July’s revelation by the New York Times that incumbent John Walsh had plagiarized his master’s thesis forced him out of the race. Their pick to replace Walsh as the Democratic standard-bearer, teacher-turned-state representative Amanda Curtis, lost to Republican Steve Daines by a massive 18-percentage point margin.

But then the NEA found the $2 million it and its Super-PAC spent backing North Carolina U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan’s re-election bid go up in smoke as Thom Tillis, the Tar Heel State’s house speaker, won the race. Another pro-teachers’ union incumbent who attracted NEA funding, Sen. Mark Udall, lost to Republican Congressman Cory Gardner, while Arkansas’ Mark Pryor lost his seat to Tom Cotton.

For the NEA and AFT, the losses were even greater in the nation’s statehouses. Their arch-foe in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker, won re-election over Democrat Mary Burke by a seven point margin. Another target of NEA and AFT ire, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, won his bid for a second term. In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich (who backed school reform efforts such as that of Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson), easily beat the NEA’s scandal-tarred choice, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald.

Meanwhile in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott narrowly beat predecessor Charlie Crist. It’s not because Scott, who successfully backed some mild reforms, was beloved by reformers. That credit goes to another predecessor, possible Republican presidential nominee Jeb Bush (whose reforms Crist would have overturned if he returned to office), as well as reform activists who turned their ire onto Crist after he backed a lawsuit brought by the NEA’s Sunshine State affiliate aimed at ending the state’s school choice programs.

The NEA and AFT were able to claim a few victories. In California, Supt. Tom Torlakson beat reformer Marshall Tuck, but the incumbent’s 181,489 vote-margin was far smaller than the 746,828-vote lead he had during his first run four years ago. There’s also Pennsylvania, where Democrat Tom Wolf beat incumbent Tom Corbett by a nine-point margin. But Corbett had been trailing Wolf all year thanks to screw-ups on numerous fronts – including the failure to pass a number of school choice and pension reform bills.

But that was it. In New York, Republicans regained control of the state senate while Gov. Andrew Cuomo (who was snubbed by AFT affiliates earlier this year) easily won re-election. Both will likely do all they can to weaken the union’s influence. In Rhode Island, Treasurer Gina Raimondo won the governor’s race in spite of the NEA and other public sector unions angered by her pension reform efforts. In fact they went so far as to back her Republican rival.

Weingarten was so upset over the losses that the union canceled what was supposed to be a gloating conference call celebrating whatever victories they could salvage.

With Republicans in control of Congress, reform-minded politicians in statehouses, and a weakened-yet-still powerful Obama Administration ready to further its school reform agenda, the NEA and AFT have plenty of soul-searching to do. And fast.

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