On Wisconsin: Game Changed Little

Photograph by Morry Gash/AP Photo

Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker at his victory party on June 5, 2012, in Waukesha, Wis.

Republican Governor Scott Walker won big in Wisconsin.

Republican Mitt Romney made it known on his Twitter account that he believes the victory for the first governor to survive a recall vote “will echo beyond the borders of Wisconsin.”

Yet,  among those 2.5 million Wisconsin voters who turned out yesterday, exit polling found 51 percent favor President Barack Obama over Romney, finding the support of 44 percent.

And that was a pretty good sampling — nearly as many as the 2.9 million who voted in the 2008 presidential election in Wisconsin.

Even Ed Gillespie, a senior adviser to the Romney campaign,  conceded in a breakfast at Bloomberg’s Washington bureau this morning that, while Wisconsin is now in play, Walker’s win does not mean the state is leaning Republican this fall.

In a state that hasn’t voted Republican in a presidential race since 1984, Obama’s re-election campaign still is guaranteed nothing headed into November. Yet it starts with a voting population that says its family’s financial situation is better today than two years ago — 62 percent said so yesterday in the exit polling.

Walker’s seven-point victory over  Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democrat, apparently was another contest entirely, an election distinct from the one coming November 6. Among those who voted, 68 percent said they don’t even think a recall of a governor is appropriate without some official misconduct.

The momentum in this race was for the status quo. And the money that poured into the state — including $9 million from the Republican Governors Association, was enough to withstand any organizational effort by the labor unions, which pushed the recall in retaliation for Walker’s withdrawal of collective bargaining rights for most public employee unions.

Yet all that money and the energized base of Republican voters who saved their governor also represent an investment in voter mobilization and turnout that is likely to serve the party well in November — making the contest that much more difficult for Obama.

The Republican National Committee today certainly is celebrating the vote.

Women sided with the Democrat yesterday by five percentage points — Obama enjoys an advantage among women as well.  Younger voters, those 18-29, sided with the Democrat by four percentage points — Obama’s base starts with young voters. The college-educated narrowly split yesterday, with a one-point edge toward the Democrat — Obama fares better in polling among the college educated.

What will help keep the contest close is those independent-minded voters who have no allegiance to any party. Among independents, Walker enjoyed a nine-percentage point advantage yesterday, the exit polling found.

The outcome of the presidential vote in Wisconsin probably will look nothing like the vote in 2008, when Obama defeated Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona by 14 percentage points. It’s more likely to look like the contest between Vice President Al Gore and Republican Governor George W. Bush of Texas  in 2000, when Gore won by 4,500 votes, or the one between Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and Bush in 2004, when Kerry won by 11,000.

It’s the margin of victory, however, that may well be close.

In a state roiling with many of the issues that will play out in the national elections –including  job creation and government austerity (93 percent of those voting yesterday approve of  how Walker has handled job creation) — which party comes out on top this fall remains as much a toss-up today as it was heading into Walker’s fight for survival.

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