In the closely-watched Wisconsin state Senate recall elections, Democrats and their labor allies needed to pick up three GOP seats yesterday to win control of the chamber. As the dust settled last night, Dems came up one seat short.

Democrats won two state Senate seats in Tuesday’s historic recall elections, but failed to capture a third seat that would have given them control of the chamber.

By keeping a majority in the Senate, Republicans retained their monopoly on state government because they also hold the Assembly and governor’s office. Tuesday’s elections narrowed their majority — at least for now — from 19-14 to a razor-thin 17-16.

Republicans — in Wisconsin and DC — are understandably delighted, and no doubt feel quite relieved. For the left in general, this has to feel like a tough setback.

But I still consider the events of the last several months in Wisconsin rather remarkable. Just a half-year after Republicans scored major wins in a key swing state, up and down the ballot, labor and its Democratic allies managed to organize historic protests in Madison, rally the grassroots to collect thousands of petition signatures, force an unheard of six GOP incumbents into recall elections, and win a third of the races despite a considerable influx of outside conservative money.

Also note the specifics of the electoral battleground: these six Wisconsin districts elected Republican state senators in 2008 — a great year for Democrats. In other words, yesterday’s recall elections were held in districts that can safely be described as GOP strongholds, making the left’s efforts that much more difficult.

And Dems still managed to flip two districts from “red” to “blue.”

The trees are clearly disappointing for much progressives, but the forest still looks pretty impressive to me.

Markos Moulitsas explained overnight that he expected to feel dejected after the defeats, but sees plenty of reasons for optimism: “Beyond Wisconsin, if we can enjoy a similar ‘loss rate’ in Republican-held districts (picking up 33 percent of them), Speaker Nancy Pelosi will have a huge majority in 2013. We had a message that resonated with large numbers of working people in overwhelmingly white working-class districts that shifted hard against Democrats in 2010. GOP overreach is winning them back for us. Just think, before today, only 13 state legislators had been recalled in the entire history of this nation. So yeah, I feel strangely energized and elated.”

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.