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What a Scott Walker win would tell us about Wisconsin

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The expectation — among Republicans and Democrats — heading into today’s Wisconsin recall election is that Gov. Scott Walker (R) is likely to narrowly hold on to his office, a victory that will immediately set off furious speculation about what the result means for the presidential election in the state this November.

But should it? That is, is there evidence — outside of the extremely localized fight over collective bargaining that triggered the recall fight — that Wisconsin truly belongs in the handful of swing states that will decide the presidency?

FILE - In this April 17, 2012 file photo, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is surrounded by the news media after speaking to the Illinois Chamber of Commerce in Springfield, Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)

The answer to that question is a complex one — not easily unpacked.

Let’s start with a look back at Wisconsin through the lens of presidential election history.

The last Republican to carry the state at that level was Ronald Reagan in 1984, when he collected almost 1.2 million votes and scored a nine-point victory over Minnesota Sen. Walter Mondale (D). In the six presidential elections since then, the Democratic presidential nominee has averaged 49.16 percent of the vote, while the GOP nominee has averaged 43.71 percent.

The high-water mark for a Democratic nominee in the last three decades came in 2008, when President Obama won 56 percent of the Badger State vote. The low mark — aside from Mondale’s 45 percent in 1984 — was Bill Clinton in 1992 when he carried the state with just 41 percent. (Thank you Ross Perot! He got 21.5 percent in Wisconsin in 1992.)

Since Reagan, the closest Republicans have come to winning Wisconsin was in 2004, when President George W. Bush came within 0.4 percent (about 11,000 votes) of beating Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D).

While Republicans have had considerably more success at the gubernatorial level — Jim Doyle is the only Democrat to hold that job since 1986 — they simply have been unable to replicate it at the presidential level.

“Wisconsin has never really been a target state in a presidential election in my life time,” said Curt Anderson, a Republican media consultant who shepherded Sen. Ron Johnson (R) to a victory over then-Sen. Russ Feingold (D) in 2010. “I believe it will be this time.”

Anderson’s argument is that 2010 amounted to a watershed election for Republicans in the state as they won the governorship, a U.S. Senate seat and two House seats. Those victories, coupled with a Walker win today, would signal, according to Anderson, that Wisconsin “has moved from reliable Democratic to lean Democratic and now to toss-up.”

(For what it’s worth, The Fix ranks Wisconsin as one of our nine toss-up states in our initial analysis of the 2012 electoral map. And the Obama campaign agrees.)

Of course, it’s just as easy to go back one more election and note that Obama won the Badger State by 14 points, a sign not only of his appeal in the state but of its strong progressive base.

“I think Nevada, Colorado, Virginia and Florida will, in a very close election, be more ‘swing’ than Wisconsin — maybe New Hampshire, too,” said Paul Maslin, a Democratic pollster based in Madison.

The big x-factor in determining what the recall vote will (or should) tell us about the fall general election is turnout. In 2008, almost three million people — 2,983,417 to be exact — cast ballots. Two years later, turnout dropped by more than 800,000.

If turnout gets north of 2.6 million today AND Walker wins, it’s fair to draw comparisons between how the recall electorate might resemble who votes this fall.

If turnout is closer to 2 million, any attempt to conflate what happens today in Wisconsin is a fool’s errand, because there will simply be too big a difference between what the electorate looked like on June 5 and what history suggests it will look like on Nov. 6.

All that’s left is for people to vote.

Clinton says Romney takes page from Europe: Days after praising Mitt Romney’s business record as ”sterling,” former president Bill Clinton took aim at the GOP presidential candidate at a fundraiser for Obama.

Clinton said a Romney presidency would be “calamitous for our country and the world.”

“The Republican Congress and their nominee for president, Gov. Romney, have adopted Europe’s economic policies,” Clinton said. “Their economic policy is austerity and unemployment now, and then a long-term budget that would explode the debt when the economy recovers so the interest rates would be so high, nobody would be able to do anything.”

Club for Growth jumps into Arizona race: The Club for Growth is getting involved in the Arizona Senate race, helping Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) fight back against self-funding primary opponent Wil Cardon with a $500,000 ad buy that labels Cardon a conservative “impostor.”

The Club had already endorsed Flake, but the ad is perhaps the first major sign that Flake could face some trouble. He’s been outspent so far in the campaign by the political newcomer Cardon, who has plugged more than $4 million of his personal wealth into the campaign and released a steady stream of TV ads early on.

A poll from Democratic-leaning automated pollster Public Policy Polling last month showed Flake leading Cardon 42 percent to 20 percent, but Cardon was closing the gap, and there’s still plenty of time before the state’s late August primary.

Cardon’s campaign responded: “Today, Congressman Jeff Flake’s special interest and Washington lobbyist supporters, The Club For Growth, launched D.C.-style attacks ads that are malicious and false. This is no surprise given Flake’s 12-year record of supporting amnesty, in-state tuition for illegal immigrants and a $1 trillion energy tax.”

Fixbits:

Obama tweeted his support for Democratic recall candidate Tom Barrett. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus tweets in response: “bold tweet from the President who wouldn’t actually campaign with him or step foot in Wisconsin. #istandwithwalker”

Rick Santorum will make a big announcement on Friday.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) will chair Romney’s campaign in the House.

Ron Paul supporters who have taken over the Clark County (Nev.) Republican Party have erected a billboard praising Paul and likening Romney to George W. Bush.

North Carolina GOP governor candidate Pat McCrory debuts his second ad, which takes place — you guessed it! — in a diner.

Meanwhile, a group aligned with the Democratic Governors Association is up with an ad hitting McCrory’s work for Duke Energy, which just happens to be a major funder of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte this year.

Florida has stopped removing ineligible voters from its voter rolls after the U.S. Justice Department expressed concerns about the operation.

A new independent poll in the Berman-Sherman matchup tomorrow shows Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) at 32 percent and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) at 24 percent, which would put them in a one-on-one runoff under the state’s top-two primary format. The poll did not test the one-one-one runoff.

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), who recently suggested Obama was “not an American” at heart and later apologized, has also praised Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) for his “You Lie!” outburst at the State of the Union Address a few years back.

Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) and his opponent release dueling polls. Gerlach’s shows him up 32 points. The Democrat’s shows the incumbent up 12.

Must-reads:

In Wisconsin recall vote, it’s TV ad spending vs. boots on the ground” — Rachel Weiner and Felicia Sonmez, Washington Post

Clinton lends star power at a rough moment” — Amy Gardner, Washington Post

Read more on PostPolitics:

The recall of Governor Scott Walker, explained

Two potential surprises in Tuesday’s election

The Fix: Winners and losers in Wis. election

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