Wisconsin results bad news for Obama

Republican Governor Scott Walker  has been called by Fox News and other news organizations as the winner of the Wisconsin recall election over Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on its excellent website has kept a running tally of the results; the Journal Sentinel’s chief political reporter, Craig Gilbert, has done a great job of covering this controversy with plenty of facts, excellent analysis and no partisan spin one way or the other; you can link to his work here.

The map on the Journal Sentinel website (I am writing at about 9:30 Central, 90 minutes after the polls closed) tells an important story: only seven counties are inked in as going for Barrett: three traditionally blue collar and unionized counties on Lake Superior, Dane County (which includes the state capital and site of the University of Wisconsin Madison) and two adjacent counties and LaCrosse County on the Mississippi River. Two more will probably be added to this number: Milwaukee County, where early returns showing Walker ahead will likely to be overwhelmed when the numbers from the black-majority north side of Milwaukee come in, and Menominee County, the smallest county in the state which is coterminous with an Indian reservation.

Voters in rural/small town counties in Wisconsin voted heavily for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential primary and, as I noted, in the general election. Why were they so much more favorable to him than voters in almost any other rural/small town part of America? Two reasons. The first is that Germano-Scandinavian America has been the most pacifist/isolationist/dovish part of America. George McGovern and Michael Dukakis (the latter the most pacifist Democratic nominee since William Jennings Bryan, in my opinion) did well here as well. The second reason is that I think many of these people believed, as I and many non-Obama voters did, that as an abstract proposition it would be a good thing for Americans to elect a black president. Neither reason may be applicable, or fully applicable, this November. Obama, with his assassination list and drone attacks, may not seem as dovish as he did when he was excoriating George W. Bush for launching military action in Iraq. And Americans have already elected a black president; do we need to do so again to show our good faith?

My second overall point: The turnout seems likely to be almost identical to the 2010 general election, and Walker’s percentages in counties that have most of their precincts reporting are similar or higher than in 2010. But several big counties have not fully reported. In Milwaukee County only 14% have reported and Walker is currently ahead, but when results from the north side of Milwaukee come in that lead will probably be overtaken.

In Dane County (Madison), where it has been reported that 115% of registered voters voted (presumably legal, because if you’re legally qualified you can register and vote on election day), 62% of precincts are in and Barrett leads 65%-35%. Interpolation from those results suggests a Barrett popular vote margin of 76,000, a bit below his 2010 margin there of 81,461 votes. Waukesha County, the state’s largest suburban county, has 48% of precincts reporting with Walker leading 73%-27%. Interpolation from these results suggests a Walker popular vote margin of 107,000, well above his 2010 margin there of 81,924 votes. All of which suggests greater unanimity and greater enthusiasm among the conservative suburbanites of Waukesha County than among the leftish denizens of the state capital/government employee cocoon of Dane County.

Walker’s current popular vote margin statewide is 206,000. It looks like Waukesha County will overcome whatever margin Dane County gives Barrett. Milwaukee County in 2010 gave Barrett a popular vote margin of 81,320, but with Walker ahead in current returns and without reports of high turnout in black precincts on the north side of Milwaukee, it seems clear that while Walker’s current 57%-42% margins statewide will be whittled down, it’s not likely to be whittled down very much.

None of this is good news in Obama’s headquarters a few miles south of Wisconsin in Chicago.

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  • Michael Barone, a political analyst and journalist, studies politics, American government, and campaigns and elections. The principal coauthor of the annual Almanac of American Politics (National Journal Group), he has written many books on American politics and history. Barone is also a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner.

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