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Wisconsin recall: Why stakes for Obama are lower than you think

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Jeffrey Phelps/AP

(Read caption) People wait in line for voting to open Tuesday, June 5, in Milwaukee. Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker is taking on Democratic challenger Tom Barrett in a recall election.

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If Gov. Scott Walker (R) of Wisconsin survives Tuesday’s recall election, President Obama will face repercussions – but not as much as some people might think.

The national news media are riveted by the contest, and that will magnify the result. A loss for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democratic challenger, will be seen as a blow to Mr. Obama and his prospects for November. After all, Wisconsin is a battleground state. A win for Mayor Barrett, the underdog, will be seen as a significant boost to Obama, on the heels of bad economic news.

But the impact will fade fast, political observers say.

“It’s June,” says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. “Yes, a victory by Walker will give Republicans a burst of energy, but will it last five months? No way.”

Still, there will be one lasting implication: A Walker victory will force the Obama campaign to expend resources – time, money, volunteer effort – that it might otherwise not have had to. And those are resources that will be taken from campaign efforts in other states.

Obama won Wisconsin big in 2008 – by 14 percentage points. As of now, outside observers see Wisconsin as leaning Democratic, so while it’s not a sure thing for Obama, it’s a state he should win this November.

As of April, unemployment there was at 6.7 percent, well below the national average (8.1 percent in April). But with a Walker victory on Tuesday, Republicans will see an opening to go after Obama on friendly territory. For the president, Wisconsin is a must-win.

In another wrinkle, the Obama campaign released a map to its supporters Monday showing the presidential battleground states, and listed Wisconsin as a tossup – not leaning Democratic. That sends another signal to Republicans that Wisconsin is fertile territory for Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP nominee.

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