Whatever the result of the recall election in Wisconsin tonight, this race will be remembered for the bizarrely tepid involvement of the Obama campaign.
Scott Walker, the billionaire-backed governor of Wisconsin, could get the boot tonight after citizens in this state waged a massive recall campaign to protest his moves to strip collective bargaining rights from state employees. Walker’s Democratic opponent is Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett.
You might have thought the Obama campaign would use this recall election as a dry run for its vaunted campaign machinery. Walker is a cartoonish GOP villain with a terrible jobs record and the backing of the Koch Brothers. The move to oust him has the Democratic base in the Badger State fired up and ready to go. Even if it were to fail, an energetic campaign against Walker appeared to present a can’t-miss organizing opportunity that would bolster the president’s chances come November.
But the Obama camp has been treating this election as though it were an infectious disease. There’s a certain, cold logic to this approach. From the beginning, the recall promised to be a highly charged and partisan battle — and far from an easy win. Perhaps there’s a subset of swing voters that Obama will need to woo during the general election who find this fight unpalatable. Plus, Barrett isn’t the strongest candidate. No need to hug a loser.
Distancing Obama 2012 from the Wisconsin race last week, deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter declared: “This is a gubernatorial race with a guy who was recalled and a challenger trying get him out of office. It has nothing to do with President Obama.”
But then, last night, the campaign did a 180.
First, President Obama sent out a personal tweet to his 16 million followers endorsing that “challenger” Barrett: “It’s Election Day in Wisconsin tomorrow, and I’m standing by Tom Barrett. He’d make an outstanding governor. -bo”
Then, this morning, the campaign unveiled a video asking Wisconsinites to “sign up for a shift, knock doors, and make phone calls. Talk to your friends and elect Tom Barrett” — the kind of call to action against Walker that would have been helpful, I dunno, a week ago.
These last minute reversals are bizarre and unlikely to make a real difference. Sadly, they suggest an Obama campaign that’s less concerned with actually helping Barrett win, than with covering its ass so it can’t be blamed for his defeat.