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First Thoughts: Walker wins and labor loses

Walker wins and labor loses: If you’re going to try to kill the king, you better make sure you succeed… What helped Walker: Many didn’t think the recall was legitimate… Advice: Don’t put a lot of stock into the commentary that has November figured out after last night… Is the GOP’s message of economic optimism (in WI, OH, VA) helping Obama?... Looking at turnout and party ID… How the exit polls work… And breaking down some of last night’s other results.

Darren Hauck / Reuters

Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker waves as he celebrates his victory in the recall election against Democratic challenger and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in Waukesha, Wisconsin June 5, 2012.

*** Walker wins and labor loses: If you are going to try to kill the king, you better make sure you succeed. And last night in Wisconsin, organized labor and state Democrats -- who launched the recall against Gov. Scott Walker (R) -- didn’t come close to succeeding. With 99% of the vote in, Walker beat Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) by seven percentage points, 53%-46%, which was almost identical to the margin in their 2010 contest. While labor and state Democrats lost the legislative battle over collective bargaining last year, they had won the public-relations fight: Walker’s approval rating declined, and the political consensus was that the Wisconsin governor had overreached. But labor and its supporters went for the kill. First, they launched recalls against GOP state senators in 2011, picking up two seats but not enough to switch control of that chamber. And then they launched their recall against Walker and lost. (A small silver lining for them: They appear to have picked up another state Senate seat, thus flipping control.) They didn’t have the patience to wait until the November presidential election or until 2014 to exact their revenge. And they lost.

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd recaps the Wisconsin recall election.

*** What helped Walker -- many didn’t think the recall was legitimate: Maybe the most important numbers in the exit poll from last night: Just 27% said recall elections are appropriate for any reason (and Barrett won those folks, 90%-9%). By comparison, 60% said that recalls are legitimate only for official misconduct (and Walker won them, 68%-31%), while another 10% said recalls are never appropriate (and Walker won here, 94%-5%). Bottom line: Walker benefited greatly from the fact that many Wisconsin voters didn’t think the premise of last night’s recall was legitimate. Indeed, 18% of those who said they’re supporting President Obama in November voted for Walker. Think about that for a second. What we’ve heard from some Democrats and labor folks is that they couldn’t wait; they couldn’t stop a train that was already moving. They tried to recall Walker because they could and they wanted revenge. In hindsight, it sure looks like it was a decision made in haste, like during a temper tantrum. But if they had seen the entire forest -- that there’s a higher standard for a recall, that Walker was going to have a sizable war chest, and that their nominee was going to have less than a month to run a general-election campaign, that they were NOT going to be able to recruit an elder statesman as their nominee (think Herb Kohl) -- would they have reconsidered?

*** What do last night’s results say about November? Well, Republicans saw some very good signs, especially when it comes to turnout. But the Obama White House and Chicago campaign headquarters can also take comfort that the exit poll shows Obama beating Romney by seven points, 51%-44%, and it even shows him slightly ahead of Romney on improving the economy, 42%-38%. In fact, the exit poll only validates the White House’s decision to stay away from the recall, especially given the numbers that didn’t think the recall was legitimate. We learned that a united Republican Party is going to beat a Democratic Party that wasn’t all-in in Wisconsin. But is that what it’s going to look like in November? Bottom line: Don’t put a lot of stock into the folks who think they have November figured out after last night. If anything, Wisconsin still looks a lot more Pennsylvania (a state floating between Lean Dem and Toss-up) than Iowa (which is a battleground where Obama has some work to do). That said, Chicago ought to realize -- if they didn’t before -- that this isn’t 2008. They are facing a Republican Party that is better financed and more organized than they’ve been since 2004. Team Obama may have a very good ground game, but it’s not OVERLY superior to the GOP’s right now.

*** Is the GOP’s message of economic optimism helping Obama? Here’s a related thought: Are the constant reminders by Walker and the Republican Governors Association that the economy has improved in Wisconsin helping Obama in that state? As we mentioned above, according to the exit poll, Obama narrowly beat Romney on the economy -- and we haven’t seen numbers like that nationally. Indeed, GOP governors in a handful of important battleground states (like Bob McDonnell in Virginia and John Kasich in Ohio) have touted the economic progress in their states. Does that optimistic message -- which is counter to the message Mitt Romney is campaigning on -- ultimately help Obama? That’s something to watch over the next five months…

*** Turnout and party ID: Turnout last night in Wisconsin was higher than 2010, but not quite at 2008 levels. Both Walker and Barrett got more votes than they each got in 2010. Here’s how it breaks down:

2012:  2,503,745 (Walker 1,331,076- Barrett 1,158,337)
: 2,160,832 (Walker 1,128,941- Barrett 1,004,303)
: 2,983,417 (Obama 1,677,211- McCain 1,262,393)

Meanwhile, note the party ID from last night’s exit poll: Dem 34%, GOP 35%, indie 31%. In 2008, that split was Dem 39%, GOP 33%, indie 29%. In 2010, it was Dem 37%, GOP 36%, indie 27%. And in 2004, per NBC’s Natalie Cucchiara, it was Dem 35%, GOP 38%, indie 27%. Bottom line: 2008 was an anomaly in Wisconsin, which explains why Wisconsin was so close in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections.

*** How exit polls work: We saw plenty of commentary last night that because the initial exit polls were all over the place -- first showing a slight lead for Walker, then a 50%-50% race, and then a comfortable Walker lead -- they’re not to be trusted. But it’s important to point out that these exit polls get weighted throughout the night, and the current numbers are pretty good. Here’s how an exit poll works: Say you survey 50 key precincts, and you find out that “Republicans in Precinct 50 said this” or “Democrats in Precinct 35 said that.” What they said is true. But what you don’t know is how many Democrats or Republicans there actually were. But once you find that out, the data is weighted.  But the most important missing ingredient in last night’s exit polls was the lack of data on absentee voters. It appears the absentee turnout was higher than 15% -- a full five percentage points than previous estimates (or the 2010 race). And Republicans clearly did a lot better with absentees. The INITIAL findings of the exit poll (far too much of which goes public) was based ONLY on Election Day voters. The current poll has now been reweighted…

*** Last night’s other results: Elsewhere last night, Martin Heinrich easily beat Hector Balderas in New Mexico’s Dem SEN primary, and he’ll take on Heather Wilson in the fall… In New Jersey’s congressional member-vs.-member race, Bill Pascrell (backed by Bill Clinton) beat Steve Rothman (backed by Obama)… And in California, “birther” Orly Taitz failed to win the right to challenge Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) in the fall; Elizabeth Emken won that honor by finishing second in that “jungle primary.” 

*** Bill Clinton: Here we go again: The biggest non-election news last night was what Bill Clinton said about the Bush tax cuts in an interview on CNBC. Republicans made lots of hay out this story from the interview: “Former President Bill Clinton told CNBC Tuesday that the US economy already is in a recession and urged Congress to extend all the tax cuts due to expire at the end of the year.” But Clinton also said he opposed their permanent extension, as the GOP wants. Clinton’s office later put out a statement, saying that “he supported extending all of the cuts in 2010 as part of the budget agreement, but does not believe the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans should be extended again. In the interview, he simply said that he doubted that a long-term agreement on spending cuts and revenues would be reached until after the election.” 

Countdown to GOP convention: 82 days
Countdown to Dem convention: 89 days
Countdown to Election Day: 153 days

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