What the Wisconsin Recall Tells us About November: Nothing
Must all politics be presidential?
Tomorrow Wisconsin’s voters will decide whether to boot Republican Governor Scott Walker in favor of his Democratic challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Polls show Walker slightly ahead.
Inevitably, pundits have cast it as a “test run” for Obama/Romney. The seemliest have justified their compulsion to connect the two elections by leaning on a quote from Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee, who described her party’s organizing effort in Wisconsin as a “dry run” for the presidential campaign. (Shhh, nobody tell those poor Wisconsin voters that their election is just practice!)
Kind as it is of Wisconsin to offer itself as a bellwether for the benefit of Beltway political hacks, the favor should be declined. The Walker recall is important for plenty of reasons, but its value as a predictor of the national outcome in November is pretty much nil. First, let’s count the ways in which the Wisconsin recall is most similar to the presidential election: 1) It’s an election. 2) A Republican is running against a Democrat. 3) A few of the same national PACs are pouring money into it, and a few of the same state-level organizers are involved. (This, by the way, was the point Wasserman-Schultz was attempting to make when she put her foot in her mouth.)
Now for a few ways in which it’s different: 1) It’s a recall. 2) It’s happening in June. 3) The incumbent is a Republican. 4) Neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney is running. 5) A significant number of states (49 by my count) will not be participating. 6) Need I go on?
Drawing inferences about a national election on the basis of a state election is almost always tenuous, but it’s particularly so in the case of a gubernatorial recall, where the main issue is not the U.S. economy, health care, or national security, but the character and specific track record of the individual in office.
Oh, and for those desperate for some kind of inkling of which presidential voters will choose in November: We could always ask them.