WASHINGTON -- Looking ahead to November, the Wisconsin recall election -- triggered by GOP Gov. Scott Walker busting state worker unions -- leaves President Barack Obama in better shape than Mitt Romney.
Wisconsin is one of 10 battleground states, and exit polls of Wisconsin voters show Obama at 54 percent to 42 percent for Romney -- even though Walker survived the challenge.
It is not an inconsistent finding, given the peculiar nature of a recall election. Some 60 percent of Wisconsin voters said a recall was only appropriate when a public official was accused of some kind of official misconduct. Walker's recall was triggered when he led the drive to grind down the collective bargaining rights of state government employees -- a major policy difference, not a personal failing.
That resistance to the use of the recall tool suggests why some voters in Wisconsin were comfortable in casting a ballot for a Republican with roots in the Tea Party movement and turning around and saying in November they could vote for Democrat Obama.
No one is predicting that Obama can repeat in 2012 his 2008 blowout in the Badger State, when he beat GOP rival Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) by 14 points. But Obama also has history on his side -- the last time Republican who won Wisconsin was Ronald Reagan, in 1984.
The exit polls are upbeat for Obama; some 45 percent said he could improve the economy better than Romney and an important voter group -- middle class voters said Obama could help them better.
In some ways, Wisconsin served as a proxy for the base groups fueling the Democrats and Republicans nationally --organized labor versus corporate and anti-"Big Labor" and "Big Government" interests.
What are other lessons from the Wisconsin recall Obama and Romney can take into November?
*Who the candidate is matters. Barrett is a non-charismatic Big City mayor, no Obama when it comes to campaigning. He also was heavily outspent--which team Obama will not be in the coming months.
The latest tally put spending on behalf of Walker--including outside groups at about $46 million to $18 million for Barrett. Walker was able to collect some of his money before donor caps kicked in for the recall in March. For all the money, the exit polls found that nine out of ten voters made up their minds in May.
*Organized labor had the most at stake in the recall and the Barrett defeat is a blow. Unions were able to turnout a vote. The bad news for labor: the exit poll showed voters almost split over whether they backed Walker's move to eviscerate union bargaining rights; 50 percent approved to 48 percent disapproving.
The labor movement will likely remained energized, if for no other reason than to discourage anti-union moves from officials who might otherwise be emboldened by Walker's win.
The GOP assault on workers rights in Wisconsin remains a rallying cry for unions which could resonate especially in heavily union battlegrounds Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The exit polls found that about one-third of the voters--or someone in their household belonged to unions--and two-thirds of those voters sided with Barrett. Unions know how to run ground games. Labor turnout grew from about 26 percent in 2010 and 2008.
*Obama's team made the right choice in not having the president stump for Barrett. Mitt Romney did not campaign in Wisconsin for Walker, so he gets no credit for the Walker win.
Obama did not want to alienate Walker voters by taking a profile in the contest.
This will make it easier for Obama to appeal to the independents Walker voters who could be persuaded to cross over in the fall. Voters in the exit poll were 35 percent Democratic, 33 percent Republican and 32 percent Independent.
The Democratic National Committee and the Chicago-based Obama re-election campaign sent a money and volunteers to Wisconsin, and even though Obama did not show, he made it clear he supported Barrett. The DNC sent $1.4 million to Wisconsin--some $800,000 since November.