Republicans’ Wisconsin victory threatens Obama’s November prospects

Ewan Watt
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CNN’s exit polls predicted a 50-50 split. But it was ultimately a Badger State blow-out. Wisconsin governor Scott Walker – the man who reined in the public sector unions, cut taxes and turned a $4bn (£2.6bn) deficit into a surplus – leaves Democrats feeling despondent and Republicans galvanised for November, following victory on Tuesday night.

By winning 53 per cent of the vote, Walker fended off a union-sponsored recall vote, which was brought following his decision to limit collective bargaining by public sector employees.

The race had been touted as a microcosm of national politics, a face-off between Tea Partiers and unions in a state generally regarded as ground zero for the country’s progressive movement. In defeating a highly energised Democratic campaign, Walker has caused a dilemma – and distraction – for the Obama campaign. Jim Messina, the President’s campaign manager, added Wisconsin to the already exhaustive list of swing states for November. Barack Obama won Wisconsin in 2008 by 14 per cent.

Already, there is considerable finger pointing from Democrats as to who is responsible for defeat. Obama, encountering anxiety from his supporters over the effectiveness of Mitt Romney’s attacks, is unlikely to be exempt. He’s visited Wisconsin on eight separate occasions since entering office, but failed to appear when the recall was scheduled. He was in Minnesota and Illinois, states that border Wisconsin, but all he could contribute to Tom Barrett, the Democratic candidate, was a solitary tweet. Some of the party faithful feel justifiably abandoned.

The Wisconsin result comes on the back of woeful job news. It had been predicted that the US economy would add 150,000 jobs in May. Instead, figures confirmed 69,000, a number that also increased the unemployment rate to 8.2 per cent due to labour force participation. These numbers, combined with growing uncertainty in Europe, have raised the spectre of a recession before November. Historically, presidents not only struggle for re-election with unemployment close to those levels, they opt-out of the race altogether.

The President continues to blame inactivity from Congress and has doubled down on Romney’s record in Massachusetts and at Bain Capital. But Bill Clinton’s utterance that Romney had a “sterling” business career shows yet again how uncomfortable Obama’s proxies are with this line of attack. Clinton, however, is different. He also stated his support for keeping the Bush tax cuts. Consummate politicians like him don’t misspeak. Clinton knows this will be used by Romney to blunt attacks emanating from Obama. That was the point.

Wisconsin symbolises a stunning rejection of the Democrats’ platform. Obama’s decision to avoid Wisconsin was understandable – nobody likes supporting a loser. As they leave the trenches in Madison and Milwaukee, Obama runs the risk that his supporters will think the same thing.

Ewan Watt is a Washington, DC-based consultant. You can follow him on @ewancwatt