|Walker at a rally in Waukesha on Tuesday, Obama. (AFP)
Washington, June 6: With precisely five months to go for the election of the next US President, the arch conservative Tea Party movement has sent a chilling message to Barack Obama that they are streets ahead of his Democrats in mobilising their faithful to unambiguously exercise their franchise.
Voters in Wisconsin turned out in unprecedented numbers in the state’s history yesterday to defeat an effort, primarily funded and organised by the US trade union movement, to recall Republican governor Scott Walker for his strong arm methods in curbing collective bargaining by organised labour.
Walker resoundingly won last night with 53.2 per cent of votes against his opponent, Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett, a Democrat who got 46 per cent. The vote was higher than Walker’s tally in November 2010 when the two men faced off in a general election indicating strong support in Wisconsin for austerity measures and against the power of labour unions.
A third candidate, a maverick Indian-American professor of medicine at a state medical college, wound up with 14,332 votes or 0.6 per cent of the total cast. Hari Trivedi fought on a platform for legalising the medical use of marijuana and gay marriage, but opposing abortion.
American voters are notorious for their apathy to go to polling stations on election day and in Wisconsin the record of 52.4 per cent in any gubernatorial election was in 1962. While the state-wide turnout of voters yesterday is still being tallied, localised figures show that the Tea Party movement which put its best foot forward to help Walker complete the remainder of his term mobilised voters in record numbers.
In Whitefish Bay, an eye-popping 88 per cent of registered voters cast their votes yesterday while in both Menomonee Falls and Muskego, the figure was 86 per cent. Other voter centres in this otherwise sparsely populated, largely agricultural state reported 78 per cent in Port Washington and 77 per cent in Sturtevant, an indication of his strong support generated by the governor’s determination to crush trade unions.
This is bad news for Obama ahead of his November re-election effort, notwithstanding opinion polls this week in Wisconsin which favoured Obama with 51 per cent against his Republican rival Mitt Romney’s 44 per cent.
Four years ago, Obama’s strong point was a grassroots mobilisation of voters similar to the Tea Party’s current drive. Americans disenchanted with eight years of George W. Bush’s rule had turned up in larger numbers countrywide and voted for Obama because of the hopes he raised as a fresh face during the 2008 presidential campaign.
But many of those habitually reluctant vote casters are now equally disenchanted with Obama even as the Tea Party movement within the Republican Party is enthused, partly by well-organised conservative disinformation that includes the notion that the incumbent President is a closet Muslim because of his middle name Hussein, that he was not born in America and has a fake birth certificate, and above all, that he is a socialist at best and communist at worst.
Tea Party faithful routinely carry posters of Obama with Adolf Hilter’s trademark moustache and the Nazi swastika sign stamped on his visage.
After last night’s results, the Obama campaign was taking heart from history: Wisconsin has consistently voted for Democrats in every presidential election since Ronald Reagan’s two landslide victories in the 1980s and they hope that this week’s opinion poll predictions favouring Obama will hold until November.
But another worry for Democrats is the ability demonstrated by Republicans to raise money for defeating the recall effort in Wisconsin.
Yesterday’s election is estimated to have cost close to $65 million, a record for any state poll and a pointer to the money power that will determine the November outcome. The governor raised more than six times the figure marshalled by his Democratic opponent, whose funding came essentially from the labour movement and Left-leaning groups that are Obama’s core constituencies.
A recent Supreme Court ruling has allowed groups untied to political parties to run parallel campaigns, especially through radio and television advertising, enabling big business, largely opposed to Obama, to take the side of Republicans.
Obama will not be tarred directly by the Wisconsin result though. His strong political instincts sensed the mood against trade union power in the state and the President cleverly kept away from visiting Wisconsin during the recall effort or campaigning for Barrett, except for a few Twitter messages in the final days before polling.
When Walker became governor, Wisconsin had a budget deficit of $3 billion and his campaign has recently claimed that the state will have a surplus by the end of this fiscal year because of his austerity measures opposed by Democrats.
He has also fulfilled his election promise to curb the rights of state workers to engage in collective bargaining, which triggered the effort to recall him. There have been only three occasions in American history when elections were held to recall governors.
Walker is the only governor to have successfully fought off a recall drive by opponents. Other state governors may be encouraged by the outcome in Wisconsin to similarly fight collective bargaining by workers.
Already yesterday, voters massively approved measures in San Diego and San Jose to cut retirement benefits for city workers in order to balance civic budgets. California is a liberal state and a stronghold of Democrats, but the 70 per cent vote in San Jose and the 66 per cent vote in San Diego against collective bargaining by workers ought to worry Obama ahead of the November election.