The Washington Post

Obama says he was too busy to campaign in Wisconsin recall election

President Obama suggested Monday that he was too busy to campaign in Wisconsin ahead of the recall election that targeted Republican Gov. Scott Walker, whose victory last week has raised questions about whether there are broader implications for the president in the fall.

In his first public comments about the election, Obama responded to a question about his decision not to appear in the state to support the Democratic challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, by explaining that he has “a lot of responsibilities” as president.

Obama had limited himself to sending a message on his Twitter account expressing support for Barrett on June 4, a day before voters went to the polls.

“I was supportive of Tom and have been supportive of Tom. Obviously, I would have loved to see a different result,” the president said in an interview with WBAY, an ABC TV affiliate in Green Bay, Wis.

Some political analysts concluded that Obama was hesitant to spend time in Wisconsin because he wanted to avoid being tainted by an embarrassing defeat if Barrett lost.

Still, the recall election — in which Walker survived a vigorous effort from organized labor to oust him after he moved to eliminate collective-bargaining rights for public-sector workers — was quickly hailed as a bellwether by Republicans, who suggested that it leaves Obama vulnerable in a state he carried easily in 2008.

In the interview, Obama dismissed the notion that the outcome was a referendum on his record and his popularity in Wisconsin.

“I think probably you have specific circumstances in Wisconsin,” he said. “Keep in mind, it’s pretty unusual when a governor attracts this kind of attention in the middle of his term. My suspicion is that all across this country, governors who are having to deal with tough budgets have to make tough decisions. But one of the lessons learned is that it is better to make them with people, as opposed to against people.”

Obama made the remarks during a series of interviews with eight local television anchors from across the country, mostly in swing states. The White House conducts such on-camera discussions in hopes of reaching key constituencies more directly.

The interviews offered Obama a chance to move past his clumsy performance at a news conference Friday, when he asserted that “the private sector is doing fine.” Republicans have seized on the remark as evidence that the president is out of touch with the nation’s economic woes.

In playing host to the local anchors, the White House touted its support of rural communities, emphasizing a $2 billion commitment over four years to help small businesses grow and modernize.

But the anchors pressed Obama on other matters — not all of them serious. Tom Wills, a reporter with WJXT, an independent station in Jacksonville, Fla., asked the president about his success as an impromptu singer, including crooning an Al Green song at New York’s Apollo Theater in January, a performance that went viral.

Wills went so far as to ask whether the president had thought about appearing on “American Idol” or “America’s Got Talent.”

“My wife and my daughters find me embarrassing enough when I start performing,” Obama replied, according to a transcript on the station’s Web site. “They certainly don’t want a large national audience seeing me in those kinds of situations. So I’m going to try to keep my singing to the shower most of the time.”

David Nakamura covers the White House. He has previously covered sports, education and city government and reported from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Japan.

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