What Do Tuesday's Results Mean For November?
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, a lot of famous people have gotten in trouble for being reckless with the social media tool Twitter, but now the skilful use of the delete key may not be enough to save them if they are running for office or are already a member of Congress. We'll find out why in just a few minutes.
But first, we turn to today's political news. Wisconsin governor Scott Walker survived the recall attempt last night. He beat Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett decisively in a battle that was largely sparked by Walker's move to strip many public sector workers of some benefits and their collective bargaining rights.
Elsewhere, Mitt Romney won the presidential primaries in five states yesterday, including New Mexico and California. Those are two states with significant Latino populations. We decided to focus on what these votes mean and what lessons they may hold for November's general election. So, joining us now are Shawn Johnson. He is a reporter with Wisconsin Public Radio. He's been covering the recall there. Also with us, Gabriel Sanchez. He's a professor of political science at the University of New Mexico.
He's also the director of research at the polling group Latino Decisions. Welcome to you both. Thanks so much for joining us once again.
SHAWN JOHNSON, BYLINE: Thanks.
GABRIEL SANCHEZ: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: Shawn Johnson, let's go to you first. Scott Walker gets to keep his job as governor of Wisconsin, beating Tom Barrett in a major labor union effort. I just want to play a short clip from Governor Walker last night.
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GOVERNOR SCOTT WALKER: Tonight we tell Wisconsin, we tell our country, and we tell people all across the globe that voters really do want leaders who stand up and make the tough decisions.
MARTIN: So, Shawn, is that how this vote is being viewed? As just, you know, giving the advantage to the guy who, even if distasteful, the decision had to be made; he was the guy in the chair who made the decisions? Is that how it's being viewed, as a referendum on leadership of that sort?
JOHNSON: You know, definitely Republicans are going to slice it that way, and just listening to the governor speak there he doesn't sound like somebody running for a local or state office there. He's presenting himself as a global candidate. And so they want this election to have, you know, wide-ranging implications for the GOP in addition to Governor Walker, you know, as he goes forward in his political career.
MARTIN: What about other people?
JOHNSON: They think it's big.
MARTIN: But what about other people there? How are other people viewing it?
JOHNSON: Well, you know, we had this sort of peculiar scenario last night where I think by any measure it was a huge win for Governor Walker. This is an election that Democrats and unions have been saying for a year and a half now is coming, we're coming for you, we're going to get you, Governor. They came up well short.
Most of the other Republicans on the ballot did well also. A couple other things that happened last night, though. It looks like Democrats were able to win control of the State Senate. We had four State Senate recall races last night. Democrats needed to win one of them to win control of that chamber, and they did.
And so that at least through the end of this year sort of puts the brakes on Governor Walker's agenda. Also, something very strange is that in the exit polling that was done on this race yesterday, the people who supported Scott Walker for governor would support Barack Obama for president. If the election were held today Barack Obama would win handily with this electorate, according to the exit polls.
So that makes it harder to, you know, say there was one clear-cut lesson from all this.
MARTIN: Interesting. I'll tell you the one that was clear-cut, though, is according to the Center for Public Integrity, Scott Walker out-raised Tom Barrett more than seven to one. And what effect do the people think that had?
JOHNSON: No question, the governor used kind of a quirk in our recall laws that says when you are the subject of a recall, from the moment a petition is taken out to recall you, the normal campaign finance limits that apply to candidates in Wisconsin no longer apply.
So instead of giving the governor a maximum of $10,000, people could give him anything, and he got half-million-dollar donations. And the number of six-figure donations, which is just unheard of in a state the size of Wisconsin. So that let him kind of control the narrative on television, you know, even as the race got more heated toward the end and Democrats were able to match some of that spending.
Still, it seemed like the governor was out-spending them on TV and so, yeah, for the handful of voters in the middle who were undecided, they were presented with Governor Walker's view of things much more frequently than they were with Democrat Tom Barrett's.
MARTIN: Shawn Johnson, I'm going to ask you to stand by as we turn to Professor Sanchez. You've been patiently waiting. There were presidential and congressional primaries in five states yesterday, so what was the turnout like, particularly among Latino voters in New Mexico and California?
SANCHEZ: Well, you know, as you might expect without California and New Mexico being relevant in the presidential primaries, I mean, those on the Republican side, you know, Romney had wrapped it up well before we got out here, you know, the turnout was pretty low. Here in New Mexico, overall, you had about a 20 percent of eligible voter turnout rate. About the same for Hispanic voters. A little bit less, but about the same.
In California, you didn't even reach that. So the turnout was extremely low but that was somewhat anticipated, you know, because you don't have the top of the ticket driving mobilization, and you had a lot of uncontested races across the other, you know, federal and state, both in New Mexico and California.
So turnout wasn't great, so there's not a whole lot we can, you know, utilize here to make assumptions about the general election, but there was still a lot of interesting stuff going on.
MARTIN: Well, we're going to talk more about that. We're taking a look at some of the big political news yesterday in Wisconsin as well as in some races out west - New Mexico and California. Our guests are political science professor Gabriel Sanchez of the University of New Mexico and Latino Decisions. Also with us, Wisconsin Public Radio's Shawn Johnson.
Professor Sanchez, so what are some of the other interesting things that you notice? I mean, one of the things that I noticed was that Mitt Romney's been trying to make inroads with Latino voters. He's of course the presumptive Republican nominee and he recently released an ad that essentially blamed President Obama for the economic difficulties that a lot of Latinos are facing now.
I was just interested in whether there's any sign that that message is penetrating.
SANCHEZ: Well, that'll be a difficult conversation for him to have with Latino voters. And one way to look at it is that's pretty much the same approach that they're taking, at least early on, with courting other groups. For example, women voters, where they're making the same argument: Look, women have suffered hard under the last several years economically. And it's kind of the same approach in the context of Latinos.
One problem for him with that line of reasoning is when you look at some polling data, for example, Latino Decisions ran a survey back in January and basically asked the Latino electorate who do you blame for the current economic situation, you know, former President Bush or current President Obama and an overwhelming 66 percent of Latinos blamed President Bush for the economic trouble.
So he's really going to have to reverse that trend in a major way for Latinos really to galvanize around that message. I mean, you know, it's really early to tell but I don't think that's going to work.
MARTIN: And there's one technical thing I wanted to run by you. California launched its so-called top two primary system. That means the top two vote-getters move on to the general election, even if it means it's two Democrats or two Republicans. And I'm just wondering if you think that that is going to affect turnout in some way. Is it affecting how people are campaigning in any way?
SANCHEZ: Well, you know, with the low turnout it's going to be hard to analyze, you know, what impact might it have in the general election, but what's very interesting about the context in California is this is a state that's usually not very interesting this time of the year, right? It's pretty much projected it's going to be a Democratic state, so there's not a lot of action.
This makes a lot more of these congressional races competitive. One case point; Congressional District 10 out there, which is interesting because you've got a Democrat newcomer, Jose Hernandez, former astronaut, good life story. You know, he emerged out of the top two to face off with the Republican incumbent Jeff Denham, and this system really provides the opportunity for a candidate like him to emerge, where he would not have in the previous system.
So I think there's a lot of eyes on California to see how this system works and, you know, possibly see if it's copied by other states in the future.
MARTIN: You know, speaking of that, Professor Sanchez, I did want to get your take on what happened in Wisconsin yesterday. There was tremendous national attention focused on this race and a lot of money, as Shawn Johnson told us. And I'm just wondering if there are ripples - are you seeing ripples elsewhere of how the results in Wisconsin might affect races elsewhere, particularly in November? Is there any talk about that?
SANCHEZ: Well, I think the major thing that outsiders were looking at is whether or not this kind of blueprint for tackling, you know, labor unions and for economic or fiscal conservatives, whether or not this blueprint would be useful in other contexts, and it's tough to say because in the context of money it's important to remember that the Republican s brought in about $50 million of outside-of-the-state money to target this. That's unheard of and vastly overshadowed what Democrats did in this context.
So, if you take that out of the equation, would you still have the same outcome? You know, I don't have a crystal ball, but that's really the backdrop of this - is just the outside interests, the outside financial influence.
For Democrats, I think what this poses as a dilemma is just kind of the dwindling power of labor unions, and this loss here, I think, is somewhat of a, you know, a tough one on the chin for that particular very powerful segment of the Democratic base.
MARTIN: And, Shawn, I know that those results are new and you're still reporting on this, but what about that? I mean, are union leaders in Wisconsin - or union members in Wisconsin - very much disheartened by this? Or just what are you hearing?
JOHNSON: Oh, yeah. Well, I mean, the union members, especially the rank and file who sort of poured their hearts and soul into this race for - it was just a year and a half - less than a year and a half, but it felt like forever, that people were out canvassing, you know, doing doors, working the phones. They're looking at the results of this race and they're wondering what's next for them because, really, the unions in Wisconsin, especially the public sector unions - they're not getting members what they were able to before Scott Walker came into office.
I mean, it means less to be a member of a union now because you can bargain for less. It's harder for them to keep membership up. It's harder for them to collect dues and so, especially the public sector unions in Wisconsin - it's a pretty heavy blow to them.
MARTIN: And I do want to go back to something you told us earlier in the minute that we have left. It's still was kind of a split decision. It's true, Scott Walker won decisively, but lost control over the State Senate, or his party lost control of the State Senate, and voters are still saying that they support President Obama. How do you read that?
JOHNSON: Well, you know, the senate race that decided it for Democrats last night was based in one county, so extrapolating that to the rest of the state is kind of tough to do, but it was the combination of these recalls that we had yesterday and the recalls last year that put Democrats back in power.
So it was a tool that they were able to use somewhat effectively in the sense that, if they hadn't done the recalls, they'd still be pretty deep in the minority in both our Senate and our State Assembly right now.
MARTIN: Shawn Johnson is a reporter for Wisconsin Public Radio. He joined us from member station WHA in Madison, Wisconsin. Shawn, thanks so much for keeping us up to date.
JOHNSON: Thank you.
MARTIN: Also with us, Gabriel Sanchez. He's a political science professor at the University of New Mexico. He's also the director of research at the polling group, Latino Decisions. He was kind enough to join us from KUNM in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Professor Sanchez, thank you so much for joining us also, once again.
SANCHEZ: Always a pleasure to chat with you.
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MARTIN: Coming up, when a tweet becomes a whoops, what do you do? Delete it, right? Well, if you are a politician, damage control just got a little harder. A watchdog group is archiving tweets that politicians delete. They're calling the project Politwoops and we will talk with one of the people who set it up. That's ahead on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.