President Obama spent a busy Friday orbiting around the state of Wisconsin. His campaign held a total of six rallies in the Midwest – three in Chicago and three in Minneapolis. But when it came to crossing the border of the state where Tuesday’s recall election may indicate whether or not he spends four more years in the White House, he was a no-show.
Obama is the nation’s highest-ranked Democratic official, and part of his job is to bring attention to his fellow party members and candidates. When even Obama’s own press secretary does not know about the White House’s support for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Governor Scott Walker’s opponent in Tuesday’s race, the party comes off as disjointed and vulnerable.
Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s deputy campaign manager, told NBC News’ Chuck Todd on Wednesday that Tuesday’s recall election, regardless of outcome, will not predict what happens in November:
This is a gubernatorial race about a guy who is getting recalled. It’s not about president Obama at the top of the ticket, and it’s certainly not about Mitt Romney.
But with support from governors Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, and Nikki Haley, and with Walker’s campaign funds at over $30 million, Wisconsin’s Republicans are showing otherwise. The state’s status as a political battleground may carry well into November, and conservatives nationwide are most clearly getting the message across. From the first Tuesday of June to the first Tuesday of November, Republicans insist: their votes will matter.
At a campaign stop in Greenville, WI on Friday, Walker told reporters:
It’s very telling that the president of the United States is in the Midwest — he’s minutes away from the state of Wisconsin — and he chose to be in Minnesota. It’s a reflection of what the president and his team think about getting involved in this campaign right now.
Wisconsin voters have chosen Democratic presidential candidates every year since 1988. But statewide support for the party – and its office contenders – shows signs of waning. And while Barrett has support from former President Bill Clinton, who campaigned for the mayor last week in Milwaukee, he certainly could have used Obama’s help last week. According to a Marquette Law School poll published Wednesday, Walker leads Barrett, 52 to 45 percent.
And yet only a few Democratic officials, like state party spokesman Graeme Zielinski, are eluding that Wisconsin will be of long-term importance. He told BuzzFeed on Wednesday:
It won’t be of the same size until we’re back in the thick of things, but we will keep the framework and do everything we can to retain the volunteers and their energy.
The same Marquette poll demonstrates that Democrats are overall less enthusiastic about Tuesday’s election. While 92 percent of Wisconsin Republicans are “absolutely certain to vote” Tuesday, only 77 percent of state Democrats have promised to do the same.
Barrett is also well behind Walker in financing. While the $4 million he has raised so far is a fairly high amount, compared to most gubernatorial campaigns, it remains only about one-tenth of his opponent’s total funds.
Asked to share thoughts on his opponent in Menomonie, WI on Friday, Barrett said:
He loves being the poster boy for the Tea Party movement in this country. And he has had a lot of success — he’s become the rock star of the far right.
Walker once promised to bring 250,000 new jobs to the state by the end of 2014. But according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the state has lost tens of thousands of jobs since he took office in 2010. The governor has also rolled back tax credits for the poor, tightened restrictions on abortion, pushed corporate tax credits, and stripped collective-bargaining rights from most public sector unions. Democrats can easily parallel Wisconsin’s economic mess with difficulties on the national stage.
The evidence is there. But they have yet to synthesize their strategies. And just as that could cost them Tuesday’s race, it might just make for a messy November as well.