Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's ability to fight off a concentrated Democratic recall challenge on Tuesday has instantly thrust him into the picture as a possible vice presidential pick for Mitt Romney, giving the low-key Mr. Walker the edge over rivals such as the more voluble New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Mr. Walker, like Mr. Christie still in his first term, has substantive advantages over the better-known New Jersey governor, considered by many conservatives as, at bottom, a moderate who "talks conservative." The recall win caps Mr. Walker's triumph in actually breaking the union lock on government employees in his state. New Jersey Democrats carp at Mr. Christie for having threatened to do what Mr. Walker has pulled off.
"Gov. Christie confronted unions through YouTube while Gov. Walker fought unions in the battlefield of the ballot box and prevailed," said Oregon Republican National Committee member Solomon Yue.
"The biggest losers are unions and cable TV hosts who staked their claims in Madison and incited the angry mobs to destroy the state capitol buiding," said GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway.
Wisconsin and the upper Midwest are crucial to Mr. Romney and, in the wake of Tuesday's results, Mr. Walker could do more for the ticket than almost anybody else, some analysts argue. This view is based on polling evidence that many voters resent the benefits and jobs security public-sector unions have been able to obtain, benefits non-union workers don't get and which have strained the finances of municipalities, states and the federal government.
Mr. Walker thus helps Mr. Romney with a slice of the electorate that he needs to win, according to pollster John Zogby, who conducts surveys for The Washington Times.
"The one area where he could gain with Walker on the ticket is among the 'new have-nots,'" Mr. Zogby said — workers who haven't seen the salary, benefit, pension and job security gains of unionized government employees in recent years.
"This is the real resentment in the United States today, not a 1 percent vs. 99 percent but the 'new haves' — government employees — vs. the 'new have-nots,'" said Mr. Zogby.
Surveys show that 36 percent of all U.S. adults live in households where someone is working at a job that pays less than a previous job, reflecting a steady annual increase from the 14 percent who reported that in 1991.
One unknown in the political equation is whether Mr. Romney is enough of a risk-taker to go for someone seen as a hero to the party base but who inspires intense negative passions in the opposition.
"I believe Romney goes with the safest and most comfortable vice president," said Denver-based pollster Floyd Ciruli.
An influential businessman close to the Romney campaign confided that although Mr. Walker will become a hero to the GOP's grass roots, as the vice presidential candidate, he would also give that third of union members who vote Republican a reason to oppose Mr. Romney.
"Romney is risk-averse," the businessman said. "I don't see him picking Walker unless he thinks he has turnout problems and then there may be others who fit the bill without as much downside."
Some analysts said Tuesday's recall defeat for Democrats will not hurt President Obama's chances for winning in November.
"We're not even counting Wisconsin as swing state but already as Obama's," said Suffolk University pollster David Paleologos. "The Wisconsin election was less about national politics and more about whether Wisconsin sets a precedent for people recalling a politician every time something upsets them, rather than about broader national issues."
But others disagree.
"The Walker victory puts Wisconsin in play this fall," said former American Conservative Union Chairman David A. Keene.
"The effort to recall Walker has led to the development of a massive and sophisticated campaign infrastructure in a state that the Democrats won narrowly in 2000 and 2004 and that could switch this fall, denying Obama crucially important electoral votes."
It was the fear that the recall drive could backfire that has a number of national Democrats to question the wisdom of the campaign against Mr. Walker and a number of GOP incumbents in the state.
Mr. Keene sees no straight line between Tuesday's election results and the vice presidential choice. "Walker would be very controversial and Christie is anathema to many conservatives," he said. "Neither strike me as what Romney needs."
If the name of the game in November is turnout, Mr. Walker offer pluses and minuses. He may boost turnout for tea party sympathizers and GOP voters hostile to unions or it may union members and sympathizers of Mr. Obama and the Democrats. Many predict Mr. Romney will prefer a lower-wattage partner on the ticket.
"Romney won't take Walker or Christie," Portland, Oregon-based pollster Bob Moore said. "Both are too controversial. Probably former [Ohio GOP Sen.] Rob Portman — someone that won't be a major target. Walker would really energize unions. It would be like throwing gas on a fire. Walker winning won't affect Romney's plans."
Some see the Wisconsin vote as presaging the fulfillment of most the hopes and dreams of a new center-right coalition to address government spending woes.
"It will be easier to win meaningful fiscal reforms by putting restraints on government growth and by reducing government spending in order to balance the budget, since government spending usually is at the expense of our economic recovery and growth," said Mr. Yue. "If Romney wants a running mate to rally tea party activists and the GOP's grassroots in battleground states, Walker would be a very attractive candidate."
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Chief political writer Ralph Z. Hallow served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation Fellow in Urban Journalism at Northwestern University, resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar and has filed from Berlin, Bonn, London, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Belgrade, Bucharest, Panama and Guatemala.
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