President Obama has been persona non grata in many states where Democrats are struggling for survival in this year’s midterm elections. But on Tuesday he began a week-long, six-state campaign swing with a visit to Wisconsin where he hopes to help bring down a prominent – and endangered – GOP governor.
Wisconsin’s controversial Gov. Scott Walker survived a 2012 recall vote after clashing with state employees’ unions, but now he’s in a tough reelection battle with Democratic challenger Mary Burke. If Walker is beaten next Tuesday, he can pretty much kiss goodbye his presidential aspirations. For now, he’s among ten sitting or former Republican governors who have been mentioned as possible presidential candidates in 2016.
Although Obama – with his lowly 40 percent approval rating -- has been a political albatross for many Democratic candidates, he still has campaign credentials among blacks and other liberal Democrats in Wisconsin, a state he carried in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. That could spell bad news for Walker, who recently complained that the Republican Governors Association – headed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, another GOP presidential aspirant – hasn’t spent enough money on his race.
During a Monday campaign stop in Mayville, Wisconsin, Walker openly complained that the outside spending in support of his campaign “pales” in contrast to the Democratic effort to defeat him, Politico reported. Walker was dismissive of an upcoming campaign visit by Christie, telling reporters the New Jersey governor was visiting because “he asked if he could come and we weren’t going to say no.”
Later on, however, Walker began to backtrack, saying he eagerly welcomed Christie’s visit. “When I complain about the national groups that come in, I by no means am complaining about the RGA,” Walker said. “Gov. Christie’s a good friend. He’s the only person I’m campaigning with this week who’s not from Wisconsin… He’s a friend and he asked if he could come to the state and campaign.”
Republican strategists told Politico the national committee is on track to spend $8 million on Walker’s reelection campaign, far more than the $5.2 million it spent in 2010 or the nearly $9 million it kicked in to help defeat the recall campaign in 2012.
Walker has raised plenty of campaign funds on his own, including more than $10 million in the last three months, far eclipsing Burke’s fundraising effort. The wealthy Democrat raised less than half that and was forced to write a personal check to her campaign for $5 million.
Polls show the gubernatorial race as a virtual tie, with few voters still undecided. A recent CBS News/New York Times/YouGov poll shows Walker leading Burke by just one percentage point, 46 percent to 45 percent; other polls have the race equally close.
Walker, a former county official and staunch conservative, first took office in 2011 and almost immediately introduced a controversial budget that eliminated many collective bargaining rights for most public employees. The budget also cut over $1 billion from the state’s biennial education spending blueprint and $500 million from the state’s Medicaid budget. Those budget cuts triggered major protests at the Wisconsin State Capitol and prompted the recall effort.
Burke, a former Trek Bicycle executive and former state commerce secretary, has sharply criticized Walker for slow job growth while offering herself as a problem solver. As The Washington Post recently noted, Burke’s chief surrogates are not national union leaders – who played major roles in previous unsuccessful efforts to unseat Walker – but President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. The First Lady has been to Wisconsin twice to campaign with her.
Republicans are trying to exploit Obama’s appearance on Tuesday in Madison to drive up voter turnout and enthusiasm among their own supporters. In a fundraising pitch today, Walker said the presidential visit showed Burke’s campaign was being powered by the Obamas, the Clintons and special interests in Washington, according to the Associated Press.
Before the week is out, Obama is due to make appearances in Portland, Maine, Philadelphia, Detroit, Bridgeport, Conn., and Providence, R.I.
“President Obama is coming to Wisconsin to campaign for my defeat,” Walker said. “I expected it. In fact, I’m wondering what took him so long.”
Wisconsin is one of 11 states with competitive gubernatorial races generally within four percentage points, according to a New York Times analysis. In Florida, Republican Gov. Rick Scott also leads his Democratic challenger, former governor Charlie Christ, by one percentage point, while Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has kept a five-point advantage over Democratic challenger Mark Schauer among likely voters.
Elsewhere, Republicans hold tenuous leads in Kansas, Alaska and Georgia, while Democrats are barely clinging to leads in Massachusetts, Colorado, Illinois, Rhode Island and Maine. In Connecticut, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is tied in a rematch with Republican Tom Foley.
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