Analysts on the Recall and 2012

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - June 6, 2012

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GWEN IFILL: The aftershocks from Wisconsin's recall election were still resonating today after Republican Scott Walker convincingly turned back a challenge from Democrat Tom Barrett in a bitterly fought contest.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), Wisconsin: The election is done. We don't have opponents anymore.

GWEN IFILL: Scott Walker was back on the job in Wisconsin today after becoming the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER: Tonight, we tell Wisconsin, we tell our country and we tell people all across the globe that voters really do want leaders who stand up and make the tough decisions.


GWEN IFILL: Walker easily defeated his Democratic challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, by 53 percent to 46 percent, a spread even greater than two years ago, when the two first faced off.

At a victory rally in Waukesha last night, Walker struck a conciliatory tone.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER: Tomorrow is the day after the election, and tomorrow we are now no longer opponents. Tomorrow, we are one as Wisconsinites, so together we can move Wisconsin forward.

GWEN IFILL: Walker's move to strip away collective bargaining rights for most public employees last year sparked the angry recall campaign. But after last night's defeat, Barrett also called for both sides to move past polarization.

TOM BARRETT (D): We are a state that has been deeply divided, and it is up to all of us, our side and their side, to listen -- to listen to each other and to try to do what's right for everyone in this state.

GWEN IFILL: The Wisconsin result was a big defeat for organized labor, which helped lead the recall effort. And although neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney was directly involved in the race, it has thrust Wisconsin into the national political spotlight.

Exit polls show that, in November, Wisconsin voters would favor the president over Romney in November by 51 percent to 44 percent, the same margin by which Walker, the Republican, beat Barrett, the Democrat, last night.

But Marquette Law School polling director Charles Franklin says yesterday's vote shouldn't be considered predictive.

CHARLES FRANKLIN, Marquette University Law School: When we look at a highly polarized electorate and imagine that it carries over to every aspect of political life, we're making a mistake. The public is actually more fluid than that and is fully capable of going with Walker on the one hand and Obama on the other.

GWEN IFILL: The president won Wisconsin by 14 points in 2008. Both campaigns concede that the state will be much closer this time around.

Romney and Obama swept primaries in five other states Tuesday. In New Jersey, Congressman Bill Pascrell bested fellow Democratic incumbent Steve Rothman after redrawn district lines pitted them against one another. And in keeping with the anti-union mood on view in Wisconsin, voters in San Jose and San Diego approved cuts to retirement benefits for city workers.

So will the Wisconsin story change the campaign, the country?

For more, we turn to Craig Gilbert of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Susan Page, Washington bureau chief of USA Today.

So, Craig Gilbert, we have talked about this before. Now you can tell us the answer. How did Scott Walker do it?

CRAIG GILBERT, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Well, ironically, as polarized as Wisconsin is, I think Charles Franklin is right. There is a middle. There are ticket-splitters. There are swing voters.

Those Obama/Walker supporters we see in the exit polls, which is really about 10 percent of the people who voted Tuesday, really symbolize that group. And Scott Walker won that battle. So it's -- everybody is not in one of these two armed camps, not to downplay it at all. But this will come into play in November in the battle for Wisconsin in the presidential race.

President Obama has a narrow lead right now in the polling, but, you know, he has to close the deal with these pragmatic voters that are not voting on ideology. They're voting on performance and they're voting on optimism, pessimism and they're voting the economy.

GWEN IFILL: Craig, was the margin of victory a surprise to you?

CRAIG GILBERT: You know, not a shock.

I mean, one -- in fact, Charles Franklin's poll had it exactly at seven points. I thought it would be a little bit closer. A lot of Republicans thought it would be closer to a three- or four-point race, rather than a six- or seven-point race. So it would have been -- I mean, the real shock to the political world would have been if Scott Walker had lost. He'd been ahead in every opinion poll.

GWEN IFILL: Susan, I wonder sometimes, even though there have only been three of these kinds of recalls mounted, in the other two cases, one in the 1920 and one in California that we know about, that maybe a recall is just a step too far, that maybe it's too drastic a move?

SUSAN PAGE, USA Today: I think clearly the exit polls in Wisconsin indicate that.

Six out of 10 voters said that a recall should be reserved for situations where there's official misconduct, which wasn't the case here. What the case here was that the governor had really angered a lot of public employee workers and their supporters, and they felt he had gone politically too far, not that there was a scandal around his name.

And so I think that was a -- certainly a factor in -- with the big turnout, bigger turnout than in the general election they had two years ago and also in an expanded margin of victory for him.

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