Next Tuesday political analysts and interested parties will tune into the WI recall results. From those results they will try to glean every little iota of data there is to be drawn from the results. Many news outlets and analysts are already clearly out on the record stating an emphatic Walker win will mean WI is competitive in November. If Walker loses however then the polls showing the presidential race in the state tightening are likely just statistical noise and the state GOP will be extremely demoralized heading into November.
Hearing pundits come out and speculate what future election results mean is nothing new. After-all, it is what they are paid to do. But is there still something to WI possibly being more competitive come November depending on the recall? Could the GOP have a better shot here if Walker survives the recall?
It is not surprising to find the recall race has sucked all the air out of the presidential race in the state. Both President Obama and GOP nominee Romney have stayed under the radar in the state. Obama has clearly stated on numerous occasions he does not support Walker’s policies but has deferred to the notion of it being a state issue. Romney has been clear in backing Walker but has largely stayed on message attacking Obama on a national level.
Partisans on both sides are fired up not because of the presidential election but because of the recall. In the recall primaries on May 8th, over 650,000 Republicans showed up to back Walker when he had no opposition. On the other side almost 700,000 Democratic voters showed up to cast a ballot in a contentious 4-way primary. Not surprisingly in numerous surveys partisans overwhelmingly back Romney and Obama in the general election and Walker and Barrett in the recall. In the most recent Marquette University survey independents favored Walker in the recall and Romney in the general. And Romney’s upward surge in the survey is largely attributed to Republicans being more galvanized to defend Walker in a week.
Not surprisingly the recall has divided Wisconsin along familiar lines. For both Obama and Romney that presents problems. Obama performed well in Northern Wisconsin in 2008 but Walker is strong there. The rural counties Obama did well in 2008 now seem to favor Walker and are unlikely to give Obama a 40% share of the vote come November. Similarly, Romney dominated Milwaukee in the GOP primary against Santorum. But Milwaukee voters overwhelmingly disapprove of Walker (70%) and that means Romney will likely struggle to win moderate voters in the city who might otherwise support him.
There appears to be strong overlap between the recall and the presidential race. As mentioned above Romney has surged as Walker has surged. Romney has also benefited from an engaged GOP base. In the latest Marquette survey more of the electorate identified as Republican than Democratic. This a substantial change from February when collecting petitions for the recall was in full swing. An amazing 91% of Republicans said they were certain to vote while 83% of Democrats said the same. Independents were slightly below Democrats in regards to the percentage planning to vote. And it appears Romney has benefited from his excited partisans ready to vote just as Obama has struggled from Democrats making up less of the electorate.
And here is where the results in WI could matter. For all the ideological chatter of this being a life and death struggle between the right and the left, conservatives vs. liberals, free marketers vs. union thugs this race is really simply coming down to turnout. Polls show Walker’s lead is narrow, albeit it stable lately, and his job approval has not dipped below 46% or topped 53%. And if recent polls hold up Walker will survive because his base is ready to fall on their swords defending him at the ballot box. For both Romney and Obama that could be huge in November.
It is likely that a Walker win in WI would keep the grassroots engaged and ready to defeat Obama in November. Even the unexciting candidacy of Mitt Romney could be given a new sheen if Walker pulls off the victory and boosts the grassroots. By the same token Obama seems to have realized this. A win in WI would make the left extremely happy and fight hard in November but state Democrats and union officials are already unhappy with the administration. They claim they have not received enough money or help. Since Obama has distanced himself from the recall he hopes to limit the impact of the recall results on his candidacy. Thus the candidate more likely to suffer or benefit from the recall results is Romney.
Wisconsin is shaping up to look like 2004 all over again. In that race Kerry edged Bush by just over 10,000 ballots out of over three million cast. The stakes were high and the politics of the state were deeply polarized. The recall and the 2012 presidential election look to be no different. In 2004 Democrats were surprised by the turnout of Republicans in small counties. Democrats had largely focused on maximizing turnout in Madison and Milwaukee. In 2012 if a Walker win heralds a Romney surge in the state in November they could be surprised again. Except this time Romney would receive stronger support from the new and growing GOP bastions in the SE suburbs as well as rural counties.