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Wisconsin recall vote: Why didn't Obama campaign there?

Wisconsin holds its recall vote Tuesday without any campaign appearances by President Obama. He apparently didn't want to risk damaging his brand in a potentially losing effort for Democrats.

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President Obama, seen here returning to the White House in Washington Sunday, has elected not to campaign for the Democratic candidate in the Wisconsin recall.

Joshua Roberts/Reuters

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On the eve of Tuesday’s Wisconsin recall vote, a major “what if” burns brightly: Should President Obama have gone to the Badger State to campaign?

After all, the outcome of the battle between Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his Democratic challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, will be seen as a harbinger of the result in November’s presidential race. So shouldn’t Mr. Obama have wanted to defend his turf in person?

Not necessarily. Here’s why:

• The Wisconsin recall is in fact not a true microcosm of the November election. It is a special election, driven by local factors and personalities. The spark was Governor Walker’s move to cut collective bargaining rights for most public workers, but it has morphed into a rematch of the 2010 gubernatorial race.

• The recall election has become highly polarized. Given Wisconsin’s status as a battleground state in presidential politics, Obama can ill afford to alienate the critical independent vote.

• Walker has led in the polls all along, albeit not by a wide margin. If Obama chose to campaign in Wisconsin in person, that would raise the stakes for him personally in a race that is already an uphill battle. Team Obama’s calculation appears to be that there’s less upside than downside to his jumping in.

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