In what might be seen as a sign that he felt stung hard enough to hurt, President Obama on Wednesday blamed Republicans’ outspending Democrats as the reason Gov. Scott Walker survived a union-driven recall election in Wisconsin on Tuesday.
Mr. Walker, however, said his victory, in which he topped Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in a repeat of their 2010 showdown, should encourage presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney to make a play for Wisconsin in the general election.
“Anyone looking at the results last night would also acknowledge that it’s now competitive in Wisconsin,” he told MSNBC on Wednesday.
The issue before Wisconsin voters was whether Mr. Walker and the Republican state legislature were right to break the public employees unions’ grip on setting members’ taxpayer-paid salaries and benefits, which the GOP blamed for running up unsustainable liabilities, a problem many other states also face.
Through his spokesman Jay Carney, the president let it be known that he didn’t think the fight was fair because the Republicans not only outraised and outspent the Democrats in the state but used corporate and out-of-state money to do so.
“What you had was an incumbent governor in a repeat election that he had won once, in which he outspent his challenger by a magnitude of 7- or 8-to-1, with an enormous amount of outside corporate money and huge donations, and you got essentially the same result,” said Mr. Carney, whose boss won the 2008 presidential election while shattering fundraising records and far outspending Republican John McCain.
Mr. Walker had first won the governorship on a union-taming platform in 2010, by a 4-percentage-point margin. Republicans said it was plausible for them to find encouragement with Tuesday’s 7-point margin, which could signal a growing unease with Democrats’ ties to unions.
But whether the Walker win signals a fed-up-with-union-power trend is sweeping the country is unclear.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich went to the mat to keep his promise to help mop up the state’s red ink by signing into law a measure stripping collective bargaining rights from public employees. Ohio voters repealed the law in a referendum by a 2-to-1 margin.
In Wisconsin on Tuesday, a union-backed Democrat unseated a state senator in another recall election, which will switch control of the chamber to the Democrats.
Still, the Walker win will put an at-least-temporary smile on Republicans’ faces.
“Republicans walk away with a boatload of enthusiasm and momentum from last night’s win in Wisconsin,” Bill Palatucci, the New Jersey Republican National Committee member, told The Washington Times on Wednesday.
Exit polling in Wisconsin showed voters preferred Mr. Obama to Mr. Romney, but those same polls also showed a nearly dead-even race between Mr. Walker and Mr. Barrett rather than Mr. Walker’s 7-percentage-point margin.
“Wisconsin is likely dead even,” GOP pollster Matt Towery said. “Consider the exit polls that showed the gubernatorial race nearly even, and Obama up by 7 percentage points. But then the actual results put Walker up by seven points, suggesting presidential numbers are likely closer to even.”
He added that the “most important message from Wisconsin is, if that state is close, then other swing states like Florida and North Carolina are likely leaning more Romney than most polls suggest.”
While Republicans in Wisconsin were urging Mr. Romney to spend money in the state this fall, outside analysts were more skeptical.
“I don’t see Wisconsin in play,” said John Zogby, who conducts polling for The Washington Times. “On Tuesday, voters there chose Obama over Romney and they also chose stalemate.
“Neither side won — both parties climbed a mound of cow dung and are trying to plant a flag. It was ugly,” Mr. Zogby said. “Best for Romney to run more quietly.”
Where Mr. Romney, the super PACs supporting him and the Republican National Committee choose to concentrate their financial firepower this fall seems less important to Democrats than how big that firepower will be.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel made an emergency plea Wednesday for fellow Democrats to go after big donors the way he said Republicans have with great success.
“The Wisconsin results should serve as a wake-up call for Democrats: on the ground organizing is critically important, but it must be coupled with an aggressive air campaign,” Mr. Israel said in an email to supporters, referring to the huge amounts it takes to run an effective TV ad campaign in many key media markets across the country.
Republicans only a few years ago were complaining that deep-pocket Democratic donors outnumbered and outgave their Republican counterparts. Now it’s the Democrats who are complaining about the playing field.
“Democratic groups won’t outspend Republican groups, but they can keep us in the fight,” Mr. Israel said.