CHICAGO — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday that his victory in Tuesday’s recall election sets the stage for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to be competitive in his state in November’s election.
“I think he is an underdog,” Walker said on MSNBC. “I think he’d acknowledge he’s an underdog, particularly here in Wisconsin. But I think anyone looking at the results last night would also acknowledge that it’s now competitive in Wisconsin.”
Walker’s win allows the Republican to finish his term’s remaining 2½ years, ending more than a year of partisan bickering in the state over limited government and the role of public-employee unions.
Asked Wednesday what he thought about Walker’s victory, Maine Gov. Paul LePage exclaimed “Yah man!”
He called the Wisconsin recall attempt a “cheap prank” and took a dig at public-sector unions.
“To me, it’s a clear signal that the collective bargaining unions in Wisconsin overplayed their cards government unions are hurting the citizens of all states.”
Walker meanwhile talked about how Romney can be competitive in Wisconsin.
“The key for Governor Romney to be competitive enough to win is I think he’s got to lay out a clear platform — something similar to what our friend Paul Ryan has done,” Walker said, pointing to the House Budget Committee chairman whose proposed overhaul of Medicaid and Medicare and spending cuts is being used by Democrats to rally support.
“If he does something like that and he makes a compelling case to the people of Wisconsin that he’s willing to take those kinds of risks to get America back on track for our kids and our grandkids’ kids, he can win,” Walker said of Romney.
Even before the vote totals were in, Democrats and Republicans were working to spin the significance of the outcome for November’s presidential election between President Barack Obama and Romney, a former Massachusetts governor.
The organization and mobilization of Wisconsin Republicans to protect Walker could provide Romney a boost, should he decide to compete aggressively in the state.
If the presumptive Republican nominee were able to make Wisconsin a competitive state, it could make a major difference in this year’s campaign. Winning a Midwest industrial state such as Wisconsin or Michigan, which both backed Obama in 2008, would provide him an easier path to the 270 electoral votes he needs to win the White House.
A victory wouldn’t be an easy task for Romney, 65. The state hasn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since President Ronald Reagan in 1984, a year when Democrat Walter Mondale won just one state, his native Minnesota.
Obama, 50, beat Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain of Arizona, by 56 percent to 42 percent, as part of his historic win four years ago.
An exit poll of recall election voters conducted Tuesday showed Obama beating Romney, 51 percent to 44 percent.
If this presidential election plays out similar to those held in 2000 and 2004, Romney could have a fighting chance. Former President George W. Bush came within several thousand votes of winning the state in both of those election cycles.
Also boosting Republican confidence in the state are their 2010 victories, when the party won the governor’s office, as well as a Senate seat held by Democrat Russ Feingold. They also picked up two House seats in the state’s eight-member delegation and gained control of both chambers of the state legislature.
Tea party activists were an important constituency behind Republican Senator Ron Johnson’s 2010 win and the movement, which promotes a smaller role for the federal government, remains a force.
Campaign spending through May 21 amounted to at least $66 million, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan group in Madison that follows election financing. That’s almost double the $37 million spent on the 2010 governor’s race. Walker alone raised more than $30 million, with about two-thirds coming from out of state.
The financial imbalance contributed to Walker’s victory, recall supporters argue. Still, as important as money was in the race, its significance may be overplayed by Democrats. The exit polling showed that nearly nine in ten voters made their decision on the recall prior to May, more than a month before the actual vote and an explosion of television advertising.
Three of the biggest names in Republican politics today also call Wisconsin home: Walker, Ryan and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.
Ed Gillespie, a senior Romney adviser, said Wednesday that Wisconsin is in play, though he cautioned not to overestimate the victory’s effects nationally.
Walker led Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a Democrat, by 53 percent to 46 percent with 99 percent of the vote recorded, according to unofficial returns from the Associated Press.
Obama’s Wisconsin win four years ago was boosted by a surge in support among younger voters, a demographic that remains more supportive of him than Romney and yet less energetic about his campaign than it was four years ago.
The president declined to get involved in the Walker- Barrett race, with the exception of an Internet post supportive of Barrett on the evening before the vote. He literally flew over the state — twice — on June 1 en route to his own campaign events in Minnesota and Illinois.
Besides the potential of an embarrassing loss, Obama traveling to Wisconsin also would have brought with it the risk of turning off some of the independent voters who backed Walker that the president needs to win in November.
Romney, who also did not visit the state in the run-up to the recall election, made supportive statements about Walker as he campaigned ahead of Wisconsin’s April 3 primary, a victory that accelerated his path to the nomination.
BDN reporter Matt Stone in Augusta, Maine, and Bloomberg New reporter Lisa Lerer in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.