All Eyes on Wisconsin, Except Obama's

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"It's Election Day in Wisconsin tomorrow, and I'm standing by Tom Barrett. He'd make an outstanding governor. -bo."

So tweeted President Barack Obama on Tuesday, at long last coming to the aid of the Democratic candidate in Wisconsin's divisive recall election, Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee.

"[B]old tweet from the President who wouldn’t actually campaign with him or step foot in Wisconsin."

So replied Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, clearly getting the better of the Twitter exchange.

One should be skeptical of claims that the effort to recall Governor Scott Walker is a harbinger of the presidential contest in November. But the symbolism, and its importance to unions and other core Democratic constituencies, is undeniable. So why hasn't Obama, who made two fundraising stops within 50 miles of the Badger State border on Friday, done anything more to boost Barrett?

Republicans, in Wisconsin and elsewhere, think the answer is clear: Obama doesn't want to be associated with Barrett should he lose. That's a reasonable point, but perhaps not the whole story.

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza went in search of other explanations. "The majority of Democratic strategists we spoke to over the weekend," he reported, "insisted that the combination of Obama’s personality (and that of his political team) as well as the unique dynamics in the Badger State lessened not only the likelihood of a presidential visit but also its potential efficacy."

That insistence raises more questions than it answers. The most recent Marquette University poll of Wisconsin voters puts Obama 8 percentage points ahead of Mitt Romney, making him -- and his "personality" -- far more popular than Barrett, who has trailed Walker since winning the Democratic Primary a month ago.

As for what constitutes the state's "unique dynamics," we're left guessing. I have two suggestions. The first is that Barrett in recent weeks has attacked Walker for becoming a "rock star" in the national conservative movement, and may have felt that bringing in his own party's rock star would have undermined that effort.

The second, and more likely, is that Barrett made his criticisms of Walker's job-creation record -- not collective-bargaining rights -- the focal point of the race. Given Friday's May jobs report that showed national unemployment on the rise and the fewest jobs added in a year, perhaps the "efficacy" of a presidential visit really was called into question. If the idea was to try to keep a statewide race from becoming a forum on national issues, that horse left the barn long ago.

(Tobin Harshaw is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board.)

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