National Democrats warned against the Wisconsin gubernatorial recall, fearing it would pull money and energy away from the presidential race in a key swing state. Now polls show the race between former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and President Obama narrowing in the Badger state as Gov. Scott Walker (R) is pulling ahead of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in the June 5 recall.
So, could a Walker win next month fuel a Romney victory in the Badger State in November?
“A loss in Wisconsin for the Democrats would be three blows in a short period of time and would be difficult for the Obama campaign to rebound from,” Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said. “On the other hand, our volunteers would be energized by winning a tough race and ready to win a traditionally purple state for Mitt Romney.”
And, a Romney insider told the Wall Street Journal that if Walker wins, the campaign will give the state a fresh look.
History provides a significant counterweight to the Republican argument, however.
Wisconsin hasn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan in 1984. But the 2000 and 2004 elections were both close. President Obama’s overwhelming victory in 2008 , when he won the state 56 percent to 42 percent, appears to be an outlier when viewed against the backdrop of other recent presidential contests in the state.
Still, polling suggests a tight race between Romney and Obama. A recent Marquette University poll found the two men tied among likely voters at 46 percent. And, Talking Points Memo’s poll tracker shows how the race has narrowed:
Democratic pollsters argued that the unique dynamics of the recall race make drawing any conclusions about what it might means for the fall.
“The seven-point advantage we’re finding for Republicans among recall likely voters reflects a pro-GOP enthusiasm gap for next month's election that I don’t think will hold true through November when President Obama’s on the ballot,” said Public Policy Polling’s Tom Jensen.
Barrett pollster Fred Yang compared the recall to a special House election. Democrats won a tough House special election in Pennsylvania in May of 2010 — just a few months before Republicans picked up 63 House seats..
“It’s a very unique election,” Yang said. Moreover, he argued that while polls from earlier this month showed Walker ahead, the Barrett’s current polling suggests the race is “neck and neck.”
Madison-based pollster Paul Maslin, who worked for former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk in the Democratic recall primary, concurred.
“The recall is the recall,” Maslin said. Given that Walker’s slogan is “Forward” and his argument is that the job situation is slowly improving, Maslin said, the dynamics of the recall won’t say anything about the fall. The only way Obama would lose Wisconsin, he said, was in a Republican landslide; “If Obama loses Wisconsin, it means the whole thing is going down,” concluded Maslin.
Successful gubernatorial recalls are so rare that it’s hard to point to any trend. The 2003 recall of Gray Davis in California had no discernible impact on the 2004 presidential election there. (California is one of the bluest states in the country.) The only other governor recalled before Davis was North Dakota’s Lynn Frazier of the Non-Partisan League, in 1921. He was elected a year later to the Senate.
Undoubtedly, a Walker loss would be a blow to Republicans arguing that Wisconsin is truly in play in November. A Walker victory, on the other hand, might force Democrats to spend more money in the state than they wanted — exactly why many in the party opposed the recall in the first place.