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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

7 Takeaways from Wisconsin–What it Means and What it Doesn’t



by Jordan Gehrke | June 7, 2012 @ DoubleThink magazine
From Flickr user Zonie_Zambonie
  1. Let’s not make this more complicated than it is: Gov. Walker cut unemployment from 9% to 6.7 in just 16 months. Governors who do that don’t lose re-election. They certainly don’t get Recalled. Walker’s reforms are working, people knew it, they voted for him. The End.
  2. Democrats were not invested in this race: The MSNBC crowd has made a big deal out of Walker’s outsized fundraising advantage and the support he got from outside groups. But the real story is the lack of support Barrett got from Democrats. The Unions invested over five million dollars into Barrett’s primary opponent, Kathleen Falk. When Barrett emerged as the nominee, nobody was inspired or happy about it. The Democrat Governor’s Association played some in the state, but they were vastly outspent by their counterparts at the Republican Governor’s Association. Meanwhile, Barack Obama was in Chicago and Minnesota in recent weeks but couldn’t bring himself to go to the state. The fact is, Obama knew Barrett was a loser, and didn’t want to be seen with him. That goes for most other national Democrats as well.
  3. Republicans were totally invested in defending Scott Walker: RNC Chairman and fellow Wisconsinite Reince Preibus made clear from the beginning that the RNC was all in for Scott Walker–and not just with ads, but with support organizing on the ground early. The RGA was all in, as were grassroots organizations like Americans for Prosperity and Freedomworks. They played a huge role and built a tremendous ground operation. Couple that with the flawless campaign that the Walker team put together, and Scott Walker was simply not going to lose.
  4. The Unions screwed this up: They spent 5 million for Kathleen Falk in the Democrat Primary at a time when they should have been hammering Walker. Get this: the Unions spent more on Falk’s behalf than Barrett raised for his entire campaign. Most critically, they lost a month messing around in the Primary instead of spending that time driving up Walker’s negatives and then just supporting whomever emerged from the Primary. Huge strategic blunder, and a huge boon for Walker.
  5. Barack Obama has a lot of work to do: There are a lot of angry and dispirited Democrats in Wisconsin today who believe Barack Obama hung them out to dry. At a time when this Recall was winnable, Obama was unwilling to put his neck on the line  lest he shoulder any of the blame if Barrett lost. That might have been a shrewd calculation for Barack Obama personally, but it does not exactly inspire people to go out and fight for you. Obama needs to figure out a way to let Wisconsin Dems know he still loves them–fast. Flowers and candy would be a good start.
  6. Mitt Romney has a lot of work to do: There’s a temptation to assume that Walker’s win spells doom for Obama, but that’s a mistake. Yes, Independents broke for Walker, and that’s a great sign, but people who voted in the Recall preferred Obama over Romney according to exit polling. Romney definitely has some running room in Wisconsin now, and a highly motivated, energized base, at a time when Democrats in the state are bummed out and angry. He he has not closed the deal yet though. Not even close.
  7. You can’t win an election on anger: The Democrats didn’t have a message—Scott Walker did. “How dare you challenge our power base?” does not exactly appeal to independent voters. Republicans need to learn this lesson for the Fall. It’s not enough to simply not be Barack Obama. Mitt Romney has to put forward a positive, specific vision for Americans to rally around, and Republicans need to show the American people that we have a plan to get the country out of this mess. If we come across like mindless haters, it’s going to turn people off. Hatred might be cathartic, but it’s not a winning strategy, as Wisconsin Democrats can attest to today. Learn this lesson, GOP, or share their fate.
Jordan Gehrke is a Republican strategist who lives in Washington, DC.