Ominous signs for Obama as Walker survives recall vote
WASHINGTON PRESIDENT Barack Obama’s Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, was taking heart on Wednesday from a rare and boisterous Wisconsin election where voters rejected a bid by labour unions and Democrats to oust the state’s conservative governor in the middle of his term.
The vote also sent a warning to Obama, who easily carried the Midwestern state four years ago but may face a harder time in November.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker “has shown that citizens and taxpayers can fight back — and prevail — against the runaway government costs imposed by labour bosses,” Romney said in a statement on Tuesday night.
“Voters said no to the tired, liberal ideas of yesterday, and yes to fiscal responsibility and a new direction.” Romney added that Walker’s victory “will echo beyond the borders of Wisconsin.” Walker, a rising Republican star who enjoys support from the deeply conservative tea party movement, became the first governor in US history to survive a recall attempt as he soundly defeated his Democratic challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. There had been only two previous attempts to oust a state governor in midterm, and both succeeded.
The recall vote grew out of Walker’s decision to strip public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights. After weeks of angry protests in the state capitol building, Walker opponents collected more than 900,000 signatures to force the recall vote.
Walker also signed into law several other measures that fuelled the recall effort, including making deep cuts to public schools and higher education, and requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls.
Democrats and organised labour spent millions to oust Walker but found themselves hopelessly over-matched by Republicans from across the country who donated recordsetting sums.
Nationwide polls show Obama and Romney locked in a virtual tie with the presidential election still five months away, and politically divided states like Wisconsin will be critical to the outcome.
Walker’s victory was an ominous sign for Obama about the mood of voters, especially in Wisconsin, where a Republican presidential candidate has not carried the state since Ronald Reagan in 1984.
Romney now plans to compete in the state aggressively.
“The close vote on Tuesday confirms that Wisconsin will be a swing state,” said Republican strategist Terry Nelson, an adviser to George W Bush.
With the economy the top issue in the presidential election, the victory for Wisconsin conservatives shows deep support for Romney’s decision to endorse Walker’s budgetslashing, tax-cutting tea party fiscal plans at the national level.
Obama had supported Barrett, although he did not campaign in the state for him. But the president’s Wisconsin campaign director, Trippe Wellde, pointed to a bright spot for Democrats: Exit polls showed voters favoured Obama over Romney, even though a majority supported Walker’s bid to finish the remainder of his four-year term.
An exit poll of voters on Tuesday showed that Obama had a 51-44 percent edge over Romney, and more voters said the president would do a better job improving the economy and helping middle- class voters than Romney would. A sizable 1 in 5, however, said they trust neither party’s candidate on the economy.
Another warning sign for Obama: Independent voters, who made up a third of the recall electorate and typically decide close elections, broke for Walker 53-45.