Next week's Wisconsin recall: a test drive of themes for Election 2012
Wisconsin recall election between Gov. Scott Walker (R) and Tom Barrett (D) enters its last furious week. It is a proving ground for the themes and players of the national election in November, analysts say.
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"He's in there fair and square. Everything else is a distraction" to state business, he says. "And [the recall] looks bad on the state."
All about jobs?
A sluggish economy and job stagnation usually do not bode well for an incumbent officeholder – whether Republican or Democrat. To that end, Wisconsin Democrats have sought, with some success, to steer the conversation away from union rights and toward jobs.
During his 2010 campaign, Walker said his economic blueprint would bring 250,000 new jobs to Wisconsin during his first term. So far the numbers are not working in his favor. Only 5,900 private-sector jobs have been created since Walker took office, and the public sector statewide shrank by 17,800 jobs between March 2011 and March 2012, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Worse for the governor, Wisconsin lost more jobs than any other state between last spring and this spring, the BLS numbers show.
Walker is brushing off those reports, instead touting the falling unemployment rate. Moreover, he has offered competing jobs figures from quarterly census data that the US government uses to revise the monthly BLS survey. Those numbers show 23,321 in job gains from December 2010 to December 2011, but the BLS had neither reviewed nor verified them.
Still, Walker argues that a healthier economy and job growth will ultimately be the result of less government spending and less clout for public-employee labor unions. He has a receptive audience in many Republicans nationally, and some suggest that if he prevails in the recall, it could give Romney confidence to highlight his own campaign promise to reduce federal spending to 20 percent of gross domestic product (down from 24.1 percent) by the end of his first term as president.
"If Scott Walker can turn jobs around, you'll see Romney trying to say the federal government can adopt some of those [Wisconsin] reforms nationally," says Lawrence University's Mr. Shober. "Romney has been hesitant to get into that fight, but he's seeing that Republicans are very excited about it. He could say that maybe it's time to make the federal government less friendly to labor unions, but with an economic argument behind it."
Barrett has his own problems with the jobs issue. He presides over a city where the jobless rate is higher than the state average – a point Walker repeats often.
But the Barrett camp counters that Walker was the Milwaukee County executive before he was governor, and so shares responsibility for that state of affairs. The governor has "no credibility" on the jobs issue, adds Mr. Walzak of the Barrett campaign.
The recall election may well be a referendum on jobs, but a Walker loss in June would not necessarily mean Wisconsin voters will turn around in November and endorse the economic approach of Mr. Obama, marked by stimulus spending, health-care overhaul, tax cuts for the middle class, and, if he could get Congress to go along, tax hikes for the wealthy. Wisconsin voters, after all, take pride in their pragmatic, independent streak – owing no particular allegiance to one party or ideology but inclined to pull the lever to make a statement or send a message.
"The people of Wisconsin may be disappointed with Governor Walker's record on job generation, and they also might be disappointed with President Obama's record on job generation," says Mr. Galston of the Brookings Institution. "It's not a contradiction."
A magnet for the big money
It's fair to say that Wisconsin residents have never seen the likes of the money pouring into their state from those who see the recall election as a national proving ground.