In defeating Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Walker dealt a sizable blow to Wisconsin Democrats, progressives and the ranks of organized labor, who together threw everything they could into the effort to send the governor home before his term was half finished. Whether he significantly damaged the president, who kept his distance from the contest, is less clear.
Romney seized on the results and claimed broader implications.
“People in what many have considered a blue state . . . said, ‘We’ve seen a conservative governor, he cut back on the scale of government and has held down taxes and stood up to the public-sector unions, and we want more of that, not less of it,’ ” the Republican presidential candidate said in a telephone question-and-answer session with thousands of business leaders on Wednesday afternoon.
Romney can hope to replicate Walker’s model in two areas. The first is money. Walker raised more than $30 million for his recall campaign, including some donations that exceeded the normal limits because of the laws governing recall elections. Barrett brought in almost $4 million. Romney won’t amass significantly more than Obama, but he can count on super PACs to give him an overall advantage.
Obama began the campaign more than a year ago amid assumptions that he would easily raise more than his Republican opponent. But his advisers worry that they will be heavily outspent by GOP super PACs. Other than the economy, that potential funding disparity is the campaign’s biggest concern. Money may not decide the election, but Romney and the Republicans appear to have the edge there.
Walker’s victory was a party victory. The Republican Governors Association spent more than $9 million on his behalf. The Republican National Committee — led by Reince Priebus, a former Wisconsin GOP chairman — and the state Republican Party combined for a total effort to mobilize voters. All that paid dividends in defining Barrett and building an organization that proved superior to what many Democrats considered a fine get-out-the-vote operation of their own that was run by their party and the unions.
Democrats were divided over the wisdom of going ahead with the recall effort, although given the determination by their rank and file in Wisconsin, there was no way to stop it from happening. Obama campaign officials worried that it would take resources and energy away from the presidential race. The Democratic National Committee drew criticism for not backing Barrett more aggressively. Had the outcome been closer, Obama would have faced a backlash for not campaigning on behalf of the Democrat.