changes to Wisconsin law that eliminated collective bargaining for state employee unions. Republicans claimed that generous union contracts were breaking the state’s budget.
In the final result, Gov. Walker defeated the recall forces by almost seven percent of the vote according to Real Clear Politics. Lt. Gov. Kleefisch was also confirmed by voters. According to the Los Angeles Times, the sole bright spot for Democrats was the senate recall election in Racine County where Democrat John Lehman claimed victory over Republican Van Wanggard, the incumbent. At press time, Wanggard had not conceded and, with a difference of less than 1,000 votes, may challenge the results.
If the Racine results stand, it would give Democrats control of the Wisconsin state senate, but the effect would be minimal. The legislature is not scheduled to meet again until after the general election in November. Since Republicans controlled the redistricting process due their 2010 victories and created districts more favorable to the GOP, the Democratic majority might be very short lived.
The Democratic difficulty in Wisconsin is compounded by the improving state economy under Walker. According to an analysis by ABC News, the state ended 2011 with a greater number of employed workers than had started the year. The state’s unemployment rate is 6.7 percent, well below the national 8.2 percent rate. Wisconsin’s unemployment rate has declined one percent since Walker took office. The report also notes that Wisconsin’s average income rose faster than the national average in 2011, 4.8 to 4.3 percent.
Walker’s biggest economic achievement was to turn the state’s $143 million deficit into a $154 million budget surplus according to the La Crosse Tribune. ABC notes that Walker accomplished the feat without raising taxes, although it notes that Walker’s reforms require state workers to make larger contributions to their health insurance and retirement plans.
The failure of the recalls does not bode well for President Obama. The rejection of the union-backed Democratic candidates in the recall after record-setting spending by both sides cannot be construed as a good sign for the administration. Republicans from across the country, including the Georgia GOP, rallied to support Walker in what was seen as a bellwether race. Likewise, Democrats and union members poured money into the state to support the recall. In what is perhaps a sign that national Democrats sensed the inevitability of defeat, President Obama distanced himself from the effort as Election Day grew near.
According to 270towin.com, Wisconsin has not voted for a Republican president since 1984. Nevertheless, Real Clear Politics polls in Wisconsin show President Obama’s lead over Mitt Romney deteriorating. The current average of polls puts Obama ahead by less than five percent, near the margin of error for most polls.
The failing recall and alarming presidential trend led Obama campaign manager Jim Messina to move Wisconsin, a traditional blue state, into the tossup category for the general election. On the day before the recall, Messina released a video (posted on Politico) to supporters that attempts to reassure supporters in the face of Obama’s falling poll numbers.
The video points to the Messina’s belief that Romney trails Obama by 191-243 in electoral votes, but fails to note that many of the 104 undecided electoral votes are in states where public opinion is trending toward Romney. The Republicans made large gains in 2010 in Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Colorado, Indiana, Nevada, North Carolina, Virginia, and, of course, Wisconsin, states now considered tossups in the presidential election. Republican victories in most of these states, particularly Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Virginia, would put Romney very close to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. An additional victory in Wisconsin or another small state would make the difference.
The Wisconsin election is one more sign that this year is not favorable to President Obama and the Democrats. The trend toward Romney and the recognition that Wisconsin is now a tossup means that the Obama campaign will need to spend money, time and effort to defend a state that was previously considered safe for Democrats, taking away resources from other swing states.
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