Barrett Loses Rematch In Wis. Recall Election

The confetti and balloons have all fallen at Republican Governor Scott Walker's headquarters after his big win in Wisconsin's recall election. Now Democrats and Republicans are scrambling to understand what the results mean for the upcoming presidential election. Mara Liasson talks with Audie Cornish about voter enthusiasm and political fall out.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

I'm Audie Cornish. And we begin this hour with an end to the bitter recall fight in Wisconsin. Gov. Scott Walker survived the effort to oust him yesterday, beating his Democratic opponent again. The recall was a rematch between Walker and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, with Barrett losing by roughly the same margin he did in 2010. Now, in the light of day, both parties are looking closer at the vote for some harbinger of things to come in November.

Here to discuss just how much the Wisconsin recall can, or can't, predict the presidential election is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. And Mara, one interesting finding from the Wisconsin exit polls is that 60 percent of the electorate said they didn't believe the recall was even appropriate. What do you make of that?

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Well, yes, and 52 percent of people told exit pollsters they also had a favorable view of public employee unions - which means you can like your teacher and your firefighter, but also think it wasn't a good idea to recall Walker. And that suggests that this was a tactical mistake on the part of the Wisconsin unions.

There were Democratic and even national union leaders who thought it would've been better to save their money and their anger at Walker ; save it up for November. Now, they've spent a lot of their precious resources, and they've damaged themselves in the process.

CORNISH: And exit polls also showed President Obama running ahead of Mitt Romney in Wisconsin, by about 7 points. Does this mean the state is up for grabs in the fall or not?

LIASSON: Well, it's fair to assume that the electorate in November is going to, probably, be a little more hospitable to the president. And as you can see from that exit poll result, there are plenty of people who voted for Scott Walker yesterday, who would also go and vote for President Obama in November.

But Wisconsin is a battleground state. Both campaigns say that. A Republican hasn't won there since 1984. President Obama won it in 2008, by 14 points. But before 2008, it was always a real squeaker for Democrats. And in 2010, of course, Republicans swept the state. I think the Walker victory means that Republicans will spend even more money, and devote more energy, to winning there in November - making it more expensive for the president to defend.

And don't forget, this year is the reverse of 2008. It's Mitt Romney and the Republican superPACs who have so much money that they can go prospecting anywhere - just like candidate Obama did in 2008, when he vastly outspent John McCain. Now, Republicans can try to expand the map wherever they see an opportunity, whether it's Wisconsin or other blue states around the Great Lakes - like Pennsylvania, Minnesota or Michigan. And it's the president who's going to have to husband his cash, and have less flexibility.

CORNISH: Now, supporters for Gov. Walker, Republicans outspent Barrett and the Democrats by about 7 to 1. And a lot of the GOP money came from large, out-of-state donors - you were talking about PACs there. And any lessons here for November?

LIASSON: Well, this is the biggest story in the campaign so far: Money matters. Republicans have it. According to the Center for Public Integrity, through the end of April, Walker's top three donors gave more than all the money Tom Barrett raised, combined. That will not be the case in the fall. The president is not going to be outspent in Wisconsin by 7 to 1.

But the Democrats said that they would counter the Republican financial advantage with a superior ground game, and that didn't happen in Wisconsin. Republicans had money on their side, and they had intensity. And Ed Gillespie, who's a former RNC chair and one of Romney's top advisers, said today at a Bloomberg breakfast that the Republicans now have natural, organic, high turnout working for them, whereas the Democrats have to manufacture turnout.

A ground game is important, but it's a lot easier when you have natural intensity and enthusiasm on your side, just like candidate Obama did in 2008. Also, the Republicans now have a lot of field offices in Wisconsin, good voter lists. They say they made 4 million voter contacts during the recall. So they built an infrastructure in that state for the fall.

CORNISH: Mara, just a few seconds left. What are the downsides here for Mitt Romney?

LIASSON: Well, it's hard to think of any. I mean, Scott Walker is now a conservative rock star. I guess it's unclear whether passion for him is going to transfer to Mitt Romney. But right now, Romney has pretty good - he's had a pretty good couple of weeks. He's got the fundamentals on his side, which is a bad economy. And now he's got some structural elements, big fundraising advantage and now, some grassroots in Wisconsin.

CORNISH: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you, Audie.

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