June 7th, 2012
05:07 PM ET

Letters to the President #1235: 'The Wisconsin backwash'

Reporter's Note: President Obama can expect a letter from me every single day. Just as I, apparently, can expect no response.

Dear Mr. President,

Ever since the election dust cleared, pundits have been prattling on about the vote in Wisconsin. Of course you know that the incumbent Republican governor beat back a recall vote and effort by a Democratic challenger to take the top office in state government. You also know that political analysts have worked themselves into a froth with speculation about what it means: Are voters rejecting Democrats? Do they want less government? Is this bad news for the president’s re-election hopes?

I think the answer is yes. And no. And maybe.

After perusing some of the exit polls I am not convinced that this vote means much of anything to this fall. Some people voted for the incumbent because they liked his policies, but say they’ll vote for you. Some people voted for the challenger, because they hated the governor’s attack on organized labor, but say they’ll vote for Romney. Some people voted against the recall because they thought it was an embarrassment to their state and didn’t want those who sparked it to win. And on and on it goes.

The numbers and trends cut across each other, collide, and contradict with such frequency that I think the whole contest can be seen only as a political outlier. About all you can say with surety is that it was a confidence builder for Republicans, and a blow to Democrats; and both parties got a look at the effectiveness of their political machinery in that state. None of which comes even remotely close to telling you how the vote will go there in the autumn.

I’ve come to think that this was sort of like a junior varsity basketball game that is played on a Friday afternoon before the varsity game that night. Sure, if the home team wins it is encouraging, and it may indicate that the coaches are strong, but it actually has precious little bearing on the bigger clash to come in the evening.

I think you could win Wisconsin in November. I think you could lose Wisconsin in November. Which way it goes will be determined by the race you run and how much faith people have in your leadership, not some governor’s race back in June.

Call if you get a moment.


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