Two things are clear with 24 hours before polls open in the attempt to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R). First, the incumbent is a slight favorite over Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D). Second, President Obama won’t set foot in the state prior to Tuesday’s vote.
The bigger question is whether those two facts are related. And the answer to that question depends on whom you ask.
There are some Democrats — primarily based in Wisconsin — who marvel (and not in a good way) at the fact that Obama has stayed away, insisting that, in an election expected to be a battle between two polarized bases, a presidential visit could have made the difference for Barrett.
Paul Maslin, a Madison-based Democratic pollster, cast an Obama visit as a no-lose situation for the president, because the president and Walker are campaigning on a remarkably similar message and pinning their re-election hopes on signs of economic improvement.
“In that context, sure he should have come, and yes he will be blamed. But it won’t matter all that much in the end,” said Maslin. “Everybody is overplaying the national implications of this.”
The majority of Democratic strategists we spoke to over the weekend, however, insisted that the combination of Obama’s personality (and that of his political team) as well as the unique dynamics in the Badger State lessened not only the likelihood of a presidential visit but also its potential efficacy.
“If a recall race becomes purely partisan, there is a strong backlash from independents,” said Steve Murphy, a leading Democratic media consultant. “Obama was smart to stay away, for both himself and Barrett.”
Barrett himself said he doesn’t hold a grudge.
“We understand he’s got a lot going on,” Barrett said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Another Democratic operative who was granted anonymity to speak candidly about strategy said that polling suggests “Barrett’s problem is is white men, lots of them union members, and Obama doesn’t cut much ice there.”
Others pointed out that the issue was so localized — a fight over the stripping of collective bargaining rights for public-sector unions in Wisconsin — that an Obama visit simply wouldn’t change much of anything.
“President Obama has nothing to do with this race one way or the other,” said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman. “It is intensely local and highly polarized.”
Not everyone was so willing to ascribe Obama’s decision not to campaign for Barrett to such pure motivations.
“Everyone knows how risk averse Obama is,” said a senior party strategist. “At least he’s consistent.”
It is true that Obama and his inner circle closely protect his political brand. Even back when he was sweeping to victory in 2008, he left lots of requests for visits on the table, and there is a standing tension between Obama and congressional Democrats over how much (or rather, little) he has been willing to do for them.
(One example: The Democratic National Committee already made clear to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee not to expect any major influx of cash to aid their efforts this fall.)
Of course, presidents looking out for their political self interest first, second and last is not unique to Obama. Nor is the tension that exists between a president and downballot members of his party looking for help in close races.
In the end, Obama, like all of us, is shaped by his own experiences. And roughly two years ago, Obama gave in to pleas for him to make a last-minute campaign stop for Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (D), who was struggling to hold the seat of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. Obama’s trip changed nothing.Coakley lost to now-Sen. Scott Brown (R), and the president had to endure a series of stories about whether he had lost his mojo.
Seen through that lens, Wisconsin looks like a no-win situation for Obama. As one Democratic consultant closely following the race put it: “From his point of view, (there’s) not much to gain and something to lose.”
With 155 days left before what is expected to be a very close general election, Obama and his team simply weren’t willing to risk being too closely associated with a defeat in what is widely expected to be a critical swing state this fall.
All of this is a reminder that politics is a tough business where looking out for No. 1 is more than a cliche — it’s a way of life.
New Obama ad highlights Romney’s term as GOV: A new ad from Obama’s campaign casts Mitt Romney’s term as governor as a failure marked by slow job growth, debt and the growth of government.
The ad follows on a press conference held last week in Massachusetts by David Axelrod and represents the latest front in the campaign’s effort to define Romney.
It is called “Heard it Before” and is airing in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. The campaign did not say how much it is spending on the ad.
Warren avoids primary: Speaking of Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren may have had her problems the last few weeks, but she still won an overwhelming victory at the state Democratic Party’s convention over the weekend.
Warren’s 96 percent showing means she will not face primary competition in her Senate campaign. Her lone opponent, attorney Marissa DeFranco, failed to secure the 15 percent of the vote she needed to qualify for the ballot.
With the general election matchup now set, Warren’s campaign is working with Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) to set up debates between the two candidates.
Obama’s campaign says Republicans are rooting for the economy to fail in order to help their chances this election.
Romney tabs Utah governor Mike Leavitt to head his transition team.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) says Obama has helped the economy in his state in the short term in certain ways.
Axelrod says a New York Times report that he sat in on counterterrorism meetings is not true.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi thinks Hillary Clinton will run for president again in 2016.
Sen. Jon Tester’s (D-Mont.) campaign is up with a new website hitting Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) for accepting “luxury” travel sponsored by special interests.
Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) will campaign for her former aide, Ron Barber (D), on the final weekend before the special election for her old seat.
“Winners and losers in Wisconsin recall vote” — Chris Cillizza, Washington Post
“When party affiliation could be a liability, campaign ads focus on the personal” — Ned Martel, Washington Post
“Is Perry risking tea party street cred?” — Peggy Fikac, San Antonio Express-News
“In Pennsylvania coal country, voters not thrilled with their choices” — Joel Achenbach, Washington Post