The folks at the White House better do some serious thinking about how they are going to proceed in the future. The returns coming out of Tuesday's election portend trouble ahead for our beleaguered president.
President Obama, as the leader of the Democrats, bears some responsibility for the party's defeat in Wisconsin. The polls suggested GOP Gov. Scott Walker and GOP Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch were going to survive the labor-backed effort to recall them but few expected Walker to defeat his opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, by 8 percentage points. The margin, whether it represents an endorsement by the voters of Walker's reforms or a rejection of the way the public employee unions and their allies sought to distort the political process, strongly suggests that the state is on the table in the upcoming presidential election. Obama cannot afford to lose Wisconsin, which he carried handsomely against Arizona Sen. John McCain in 2008. Tuesday's results suggest he very well could.
Moreover, Obama failed to campaign on Barrett's behalf, never mind the fact that he visited neighboring states in the days leading up to the election. It makes perfect political sense that his campaign advisers, sensing defeat, did not want him associated with Barrett's loss. Nevertheless, it was an important race for the Democratic Party and especially important to the public employee unions who put millions into the effort to toss Walker out. The president's failure to even show up for the fight will have repercussions going into November.
Another race worth mention was in New Jersey, where incumbent Democrat Steve Rothman and Bill Pascrell faced off against each other in the state's newly-redrawn Ninth Congressional District.
Most observers gave Rothman the edge going in. He had the backing of senior Obama aide and presidential proxy David Axelrod and was better known to more voters in the new district than Pascrell. But Pascrell had a secret weapon of his own—former President Bill Clinton, who not only endorsed him but came into the district to campaign for him. The final result? Pascrell trounced Rothman, 61 percent to 39 percent. Is it too hard to infer, therefore, that head-to-head, Clinton beats Obama, suggesting that even Democrats are getting tired of the current administration?
Clinton, who is probably still smarting a little from the pasting Obama's team gave him during the 2008 South Carolina Democratic primary, was equally unhelpful to the White House when he explained Tuesday on CNBC's Closing Bell that he believe the U.S. economy was already in a recession and that the Bush/Obama tax cuts should be extended.
"What I think we need to do is find some way to avoid the fiscal cliff, to avoid doing anything that would contract the economy now," Clinton said, "and then deal with what's necessary in the long term debt-reduction plans as soon as they can, which presumably would be after the election." While arguing against making the upper-income tax reductions permanent, Clinton did urge the president and Congress to make some kind of deal, something Obama typically resists doing, preferring—unless pushed to the wall—to force people to come around to his way of seeing things or to take no action at all.
None of these things will, by themselves, determine the outcome of the 2012 election. What they do point to is a fundamental weakness in the president's re-election bid, something most prognosticators have chosen to ignore up to this point. They are still expecting an Obama juggernaut like was seen in 2008. Based on what happened Tuesday, they're going to have a long wait. The stars are just not lining up in the same way.