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Wisconsin result could inspire further attacks on unions
June 6, 2012 / 5:30 PM / in 6 years

Wisconsin result could inspire further attacks on unions

* Republican Walker beat back recall effort pushed by unions

* White House: don’t read too much into Wisconsin outcome

* Wisconsin is key state in Obama’s Nov. 6 re-election bid

* Walker: Wisconsin “now competitive” in White House race

By Nick Carey

MILWAUKEE, June 6 (Reuters) - The White House on Wednesday shrugged off the idea that Republican Governor Scott Walker’s recall election victory in Wisconsin spelled trouble for President Barack Obama’s Nov. 6 re-election bid, while analysts said the result may embolden Republican governors in other states to take on labor unions.

Walker on Tuesday survived a recall election instigated by liberal critics opposed to his bold moves to limit the rights of public sector unions in the Midwestern state that could be a key battleground in November’s presidential election.

“I certainly wouldn’t read much into yesterday’s result beyond its effect on who’s occupying the governor’s seat today in Wisconsin,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One as Obama headed for San Francisco.

Walker, who has emerged as a hero to American conservatives for beating back the challenge from a union movement generally supportive of Democrats like Obama, said Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney is still an underdog, particularly in Wisconsin, where Obama won by 14 percentage points in 2008.

“But I think anyone looking at the results last night would also acknowledge that it’s now competitive in Wisconsin,” Walker said in an interview on MSNBC on Wednesday after defeating Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in the recall election.

Republicans celebrated a Walker victory that dealt another blow to an already-weakened U.S. labor movement. Unions and liberal activists forced the recall election over a law championed by Walker curbing collective bargaining powers for public sector workers. The state’s Republican-controlled legislature passed it last year soon after Walker took office.

Walker said he was not sorry about going after union collective bargaining rights, but what he would have done differently was spend more time talking about what he was doing instead of “rushing out to fix it.”

“I was so eager to fix it, I didn’t talk about it,” said Walker. “Most politicians talk about it, they just never fix it.”

Walker won by a larger margin than he had over the same challenger two years ago. Downplaying the implications of the vote, Carney said, “What you had was an incumbent governor in a repeat election ... in which he outspent his challenger by a magnitude of seven or eight to one - with an enormous amount of outside corporate money and huge donations, and you got essentially the same result.”

The Obama campaign has conceded that Wisconsin could be competitive in November. No Republican presidential candidate has won the state since Ronald Reagan in 1984.


“The unions tried to take a stand here and when you stake everything on one election and lose, politicians around the country will not be afraid to take on the unions,” said Thad Kousser, an associate politics professor at the University of California San Diego.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement that while the Walker recall fell short, the state’s Senate has flipped back to the Democrats. Democratic state Senate candidate John Lehman has declared victory in a recall election against Republican state senator Van Wanggard, though the incumbent had not conceded as of early Wednesday.

Trumka said Walker’s “divisive agenda has been stopped cold,” adding: “We laid the groundwork for a powerful movement to push back against Walker-style anti-working family policies everywhere.”

The Walker recall election had been interpreted as a barometer of the U.S. political climate going into November’s presidential election.

The outcome marked the latest evidence of a growing partisan climate in American politics that values confrontation over compromise and has led to gridlock in Washington.

It also suggested that some voters will support a politician who seeks to balance the government budget by cutting spending and reducing pensions and benefits for government workers rather than raising taxes.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Obama had “actively avoided Wisconsin” and “abandoned his base in this recall.”

“Wisconsin Democrats now head into November dispirited and in disarray, while Republicans remain strong and organized, with momentum on our side,” Priebus said.

House of Representatives Republicans emerged from a closed-door meeting on Wednesday morning laughing and smiling. Representative Fred Upton of Michigan said they had cheered the Wisconsin results.

Ahead of the recall election, organized labor and conservatives mounted intense get-out-the-vote drives in Wisconsin. Grassroots activists in the conservative Tea Party movement closely aligned with the Republicans played a major role in those efforts supporting Walker.

Harley Shaiken, a labor professor at the University of California Berkeley, said the Wisconsin results did not mean there would be a wholesale assault on unions nationwide.

“This is clearly a victory for Walker, but it’s been a very costly and disruptive victory,” he said. “Some legislators (in other states) will try to go down the same path but they may find it very expensive to do so.”

Walker has not emerged completely unscathed. He still faces an investigation into alleged corruption during his time as Milwaukee County executive before he became governor.

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