In Wisconsin, Romney and Santorum give governor, and recall, a wide berth
The recall election of Republican Gov. Scott Walker is the main issue on Wisconsin voters' minds, creating a host of obstacles for Romney and Santorum in the primary Tuesday.
As Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum rally voters in this state before Tuesday’s primary, their talking points hit many familiar themes – jobs, the economy, and health care. But one subject is more muted on the stump, even though it’s the issue voters in Wisconsin currently care most about: The recall election of Republican Gov. Scott Walker.Skip to next paragraph
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The Republican majority in the Wisconsin Legislature pushed through Governor Walker’s legislation weakening public sector unions more than a year ago, an agenda that brought more than 100,000 demonstrators to the state capital last winter. Polls show voters in the state are evenly split on whether or not Walker should be recalled from office.
While Tuesday’s voting will decide which Republican presidential candidate will receive the majority of Wisconsin’s 42 delegates, and collective media spending by both campaigns is into the millions of dollars, most voters here say the recall, set for June 5, is more on their minds.
“It’s the real issue. It directly affects the politics in Wisconsin and will either help us or hurt us,” says Vicki, a Waukesha native who declined to give her last name.
John Hasse of Waukesha, who is retired, says he may not agree with Walker on certain issues, but finds the current recall effort “a waste of money and time.”
“That weighs more heavily on my mind than the primary, frankly,” he says.
For Mr. Romney and Mr. Santorum, too close of an association with Walker could potentially backfire. Polls show 26 percent of Wisconsin households in 2010 included a union member, higher than the US average of 17 percent. That year Walker received 18 percent of his votes from union households.
“To forthrightly stand beside Scott Walker is probably a no-lose for either” presidential candidate, says John McAdams, a political scientist at Marquette University in Milwaukee, who adds that supporting Walker “probably doesn’t mean it will win them a lot of votes” either.
The strategy for both presidential candidates is to separate the man from his policies. For example, both have endorsed Walker’s policies but neither has shared a public stage with the governor himself nor has asked for his endorsement. This is in contrast to other high-ranking Republicans in this state, including US Rep. Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, and US Sen. Ron Johnson, both of whom are endorsing Romney.
Last week, Romney told supporters he agreed with Walker’s “effort to rein in the excess that have permeated the public-sector union and government negotiations over the years.”
Santorum framed Walker’s recall fight as similar to the uphill battles his campaign faced since the start of primary season. “There is no compromise with these folks. The governor did what he had to do. No matter what he was going to do … the other side goes nuclear,” Santorum said.