ST LOUIS (Reuters) - One candidate was in Texas, the other in California, but it was the state of Wisconsin that loomed large over U.S. presidential campaigning on Wednesday, and, not surprisingly, Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama sparred over its significance.
Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker’s victory in a recall vote was a cause célèbre for conservatives and Romney attempted to turn it into support for his campaign to oust Obama in the November 6 election, even though he had largely steered clear of the state in the midst of the struggle.
The outcome played into Romney’s case that “union bosses” have gotten too powerful and that they contribute so much money to Obama’s campaign that he is reluctant to take them on.
“It will echo throughout the country,” Romney told his supporters at a fund-raising lunch in San Antonio, Texas, that raised close to $3.5 million and was part of a two-day tour that netted $15 million. “Yesterday was won by the people of Wisconsin doing the right thing and voting for conservative principles.”
Obama had for the most part avoided getting directly involved in the effort by Wisconsin unions and Democrats to toss Walker out of office in favor of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a Democrat. The recall effort was launched after Walker last year limited the powers of public sector unions. Unions typically support Democrats.
The White House attempted to play down the importance of the Wisconsin results.
“My observation is that what you had was an incumbent governor in a repeat election that he had won once,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One as it carried Obama to California.
“The president supported and stood by Tom Barrett but I certainly wouldn’t read much into yesterday’s result beyond its effect on who’s occupying the governor’s seat today in Wisconsin,” Carney added.
Still, it was hard to see the Wisconsin outcome as anything but bad news for Obama, particularly coming in a state that he won in 2008 and should be expected to carry again in November.
Polls of Wisconsin voters indicated Obama would still defeat Romney in Wisconsin but his lead was within single digits, and this was good enough to give Romney a reason to crow. Wisconsin would represent just the kind of takeaway that Romney will need to defeat Obama.
Romney noted that Wisconsin tends to vote for Democrats in presidential elections. “We (Republicans) don’t win a lot in Wisconsin. The last time we won Wisconsin was 1984. It’s been blue (Democratic) voting for president since then,” Romney said, the day before he heads to the battleground state of Missouri for more campaigning.
Romney has criticized unions throughout his presidential campaign in an effort to get reluctant conservatives to rally around him.
The effort could hurt him in Michigan, the state where he was born and where he would love to achieve an upset of Obama. Hanging over him there is his opposition to auto bailouts that Obama pursued aggressively and which helped avoid thousands of layoffs during the worst of the economic crisis.
He told the Detroit News in an interview that he plans to quickly dispose of the federal government’s remaining stake in General Motors, even at a loss, if he wins the November election. “There is no reason for the government to continue to hold” its stake in General Motors, Romney said.
The Washington Post estimated that the government would lose at least $16 billion if Romney went ahead with this plan.
“I would get the company independent from government and run for the interests of the consumer and the enterprise and its workers — not for the political considerations of government officials,” Romney told the Detroit News.
The former Massachusetts governor, who frequently uses an Apple iPad, suffered a technical setback when his email account was hacked. ABC News said the Secret Service is investigating what happened.
Additional reporting by Caren Bohan aboard Air Force One and Jim Forsyth in San Antonio; Editing by Mary Milliken and Will Dunham