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Walker (Brian Cahn/Zuma/Newscom) and Obama (Getty Images)

Summertime blues

Campaign 2012 | Wisconsin vote is only one indicator of a bad month for the president

Issue: "The brain trust," June 30, 2012

Trying to oust Gov. Scott Walker, labor unions unleashed a furious ground game in Wisconsin: 50,000 volunteers, 1.4 million doors knocked on, and 1.5 million phone calls. It was the final battle of a war that began more than a year ago when Walker tackled a state budget crisis by taking on bloated state employee benefits. In what was being called the year's second-biggest election, the unions only awaited the presence of one of its generals.

But President Barack Obama, running in 2012's biggest race, kept his distance from the Badger State, offering only a token tweet backing Democratic challenger Tom Barrett the day before the June 5 vote.

Walker's win in the recall election, by a larger margin than his original victory in 2010, left Wisconsin Democrats and national labor officials disappointed in Obama's tepid support.

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That was just the latest setback in what has been a bad June for Obama. The month's first day brought another poor unemployment report: The United States added just 69,000 jobs in May. That number might have contributed to former president Bill Clinton's June 5 remarks backing the temporary extension of tax cuts set to expire at the end of this year. That's a break with Obama's persistent opposition to keeping the tax cuts for upper-income families. Just days earlier Clinton said presidential challenger Mitt Romney had a "sterling" business career-another deviation from a major Obama theme.

It didn't end there for Obama:

• His former economic adviser Lawrence Summers also backed the tax cut extensions.

• A congressional lawmaker endorsed by Obama lost in the June 5 New Jersey primary to another lawmaker supported by Clinton.

• Fundraising numbers released June 7 showed that Romney had collected nearly $17 million more than Obama in May. Romney's $76.8 million May haul, compared to Obama's $60 million, marked the first month that Romney had outpaced Obama.

Obama could not escape the first full week of June without a self-inflicted wound either: On June 8, Obama asserted in a press conference that the "private sector is doing fine." The president tried to clarify his remarks hours later, but not before a platoon of Republicans used the remark to argue that Obama has a lot to learn about market economies. "The president must be on another planet," said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

June could turn more cruel: The Supreme Court may rule this month on the constitutionality of Obamacare and on Obama's challenge to Arizona's controversial immigration law.

But of all the downturns, the one from Wisconsin could bring the most significant repercussions. Walker's success in turning a $3 billion-plus budget shortfall into a projected surplus may embolden fiscal conservatives in other cash-strapped states to challenge unions. "I've been inspired," said Iowa's Gov. Terry Branstad.

Michigan, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Missouri also are pushing to limit the automatic collection of union dues. With this new restriction in place in Wisconsin, the state's second-largest union suffered a nearly 50 percent drop in its membership during the past year. A weakened labor movement shrinks the power of Democrats, especially if union members remain angry over Obama's absence in the Wisconsin fight. And Wisconsin, a state that has gone for Democrats in presidential elections since 1984, is now a battleground come November.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee is WORLD's Washington Bureau chief. As a reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, he was embedded with a National Guard unit in Iraq. He also once worked in the press office of Sen. Lamar Alexander.

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