The Badger State hasn't voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1984, but Gov. Walker's recall triumph may have altered the playing field
On Tuesday, Republican Gov. Scott Walker handily survived a Wisconsin recall vote, weathering a bitter battle that had erupted over his ultimately successful 2011 push to strip public-sector unions of their collective bargaining rights in a bid to repair the state budget. Walker's victory was a huge setback for the state's labor unions and progressives, and a shot in the arm for small-government activists. The race spilled over into the presidential election as well, with many seeing it as a microcosm of an ideological war over government spending that's playing out on a national level. President Obama easily won Wisconsin in 2008, and holding the state is a crucial part of his re-election strategy. No Republican presidential candidate has taken the state since Ronald Reagan in 1984 — but does Walker's victory mean Wisconsin could go red in November?
No. The recall was not about Obama: Exit polls show that Tuesday's voters in Wisconsin "would go decisively for Obama," says Harold Meyerson at The Washington Post. In fact, 18 percent of Obama backers voted for Walker, suggesting that even "some Obama supporters thought that recall was too extreme a remedy or favored Walker's attack on public-sector unions." Obama also beat Mitt Romney by an 11-point margin when voters were asked "which candidate would help the middle class more," an indication that the multimillionaire Romney will struggle to connect with the "white working class of the once-industrial Midwest."
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Plus, Walker ran on Obama's campaign themes: Oddly enough, Walker's campaign used the same talking points that Obama will rely on in the general election, says Alec MacGillis at The New Republic. Walker essentially used a "stay the course" message that said the economy has gradually improved under his watch after he inherited an enormous mess. "Sound familiar?" Walker's victory is evidence of "grudging pro-incumbent sentiment in a time of cautious optimism about a painfully gradual economic recovery," a silver lining for Obama.
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Actually, Walker showed Romney a path to victory: Walker's victory has "provided a template for Republicans looking ahead to the presidential race," says Dan Balz at The Washington Post. The key elements are "big money, powerful organization, and enormous enthusiasm among his base." With the aid of super PACs, Romney can count on a financial advantage, and Walker's "superior voter mobilization operation" gives Romney's campaign "something to build on."
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But now, Romney will have to embrace Walker's approach: For the GOP, the "moral of the Wisconsin Republican story is that politicians who run with gusto on conservative ideas can win the day," says John Dickerson at Slate. Walker embodies "the key criteria for heroism in Republican ranks these days: Taking a bold stand and sticking to it no matter how strong the opposition." Romney should take note. So far, he's associated himself with far-right ideas without getting "pinned down on the specifics."
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