The poll numbers may be tightening, but the gap between the two candidates in Wisconsin’s historic recall election for governor is wide open when comparing support from their respective national parties.
In the weeks leading up to the Tuesday election, incumbent Gov. Scott Walker (R) has received fundraising support from the Republican Governors Association and campaign boosts from the leading stars of his party: GOP Chairman Reince Priebus, US Rep. and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and even supportive words from presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney during recent swings through the state, though Mr. Romney did not campaign for Governor Walker specifically.
In comparison, the party support for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has been sparse: a single email from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) asking donors to support Mayor Barrett’s campaign, a media statement endorsing Barrett after he won the primary, and a brief appearance by former President Bill Clinton in Milwaukee last week. President Obama has not spoken publicly about the race nor has he stopped in Wisconsin to campaign on Barrett’s behalf.
Stephanie Cutter, Mr. Obama’s deputy campaign manager, downplayed the party’s involvement, describing the recall to MSNBC as “a gubernatorial race … [that] has nothing to do with President Obama.”
To Barrett supporters, the lack of assistance from the national Democratic Party is glaring and could be to blame if the mayor loses to Walker Tuesday.
“Obama could have been here. Biden? I’m disappointed. They could have done more,” says Bud Balliett while watching election coverage at an American Legion Hall in Kenosha. “However it turns out, we’ll have to live with it.”
Polling released late last week by the Marquette Law School shows Walker leading Barrett 52 to 45 percent among likely voters, however polling released late Sunday by Public Policy Polling in Raleigh, N.C., shows a much tighter race, at 50 to 47 respectively.
Labor union organizations have lashed out against the DNC, arguing that the recall is an important referendum for the general election in November and that the national party has a lot to lose if the executive branch remains Republican.
“We would certainly like a clear message of their support in these final weeks … that there would be a clear message that, ‘This is important for the country and this is important for the state,” Bruce Colburn, an executive with the Service Employees International Union in Wisconsin told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
However, analysts say the DNC decided not to embrace Wisconsin’s recall campaign as early as last year, when polling showed a tight race and it became apparent Walker’s fundraising would reach unprecedented levels in the state. Between January 2011 and May 2012, Walker raised $30.5 million, the majority from outside donors, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a watchdog group in Madison that tracks campaign spending. In comparison, Barrett has raised $3.9 million.
“The beltway reluctance to embrace this campaign in large part is because they made an assessment the needs for November are greater,” says Paul Maslin, a national political consultant based in Madison. “There’s no way to match [Walker’s] money and at some point, [the DNC] made the decision there are other priorities.”
Republicans have been crowing that Barrett’s lack of support from his own party is evidence his campaign is doomed. “What good can come from Barack Obama being tied to a losing effort in Wisconsin when we know he needs to come back in a few months and try to win Wisconsin for the presidency?” Mr. Preibus said to the Journal Sentinel last week.
However, Republicans have more to lose in the general election, which is why the GOP has directed so much time and money to Walker, says Arnold Shober, a government professor at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis., who references last week’s Marquette Law School poll that shows Obama head of Romney 51-43 in the state.
“Republicans are trying very much to make this a national referendum on Obama. But Obama still has better poll numbers here than Romney and Wisconsin hasn’t gone Republican [for president] since 1984,” Mr. Shober says.
Obama staying away from Wisconsin may actually help Barrett win over independents who could be turned off by the message that Walker and Obama both share: that job growth is slow but, given time and patience, economic progress will come.
“Voters in the middle are very practical. It’s all about ‘what have you done for me lately?’ They’re not debating what party is right, the first thing that comes into play is how things are going right now and is the incumbent achieving progress or not,” says Maslin.
One of those voters could be Darrell Hale of South Milwaukee who says he’s angry with both Walker and Obama, which suggests his vote may end up going for Barrett.
“Walker’s a snake. What politician isn’t? Yet look at Obama: Everybody wants change. We got it, but we’re not any better,” Mr. Hale says. “Nobody’s telling the truth.”