Obama Campaigns for Worker Votes at Labor Day Event in Milwaukee

President Barack Obama tried to rally working-class voters today in Wisconsin, a political swing state where Republican Governor Scott Walker, a union foe and possible 2016 presidential candidate, is in danger of losing re-election.

“Republicans who run our Congress oppose almost all” the administration’s efforts on behalf of labor, Obama said to jeers from a crowd estimated by organizers to number about 6,000 at LaborFest, a union festival in Milwaukee. “Don’t boo,” Obama said. “Vote.”

While Obama didn’t mention Walker or the gubernatorial race, his remarks on the traditional Labor Day start to the fall campaign season -- in a state where none of the congressional races are highly competitive -- contained several calls to vote out Republicans.

Obama asked the crowd to keep fighting for measures like an increase in the federal minimum wage and equal pay for women.

“The only thing more powerful than an idea whose time has come is when millions of people are organizing around an idea whose time has come,” he said.

Wisconsin, a bellwether state where Obama and Walker each were voted in twice, is one of the few places this year where Obama’s presence might be more help than hindrance to a Democrat in a close contest. He could mobilize union voters, African Americans and other Democratic leaning groups on behalf of Walker’s opponent, Madison school board member Mary Burke.

Core Constituencies

“Democrats in the state are probably hoping that this will rally those core Democratic constituencies,” said Julia R. Azari, a political science professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee. “I can’t say for sure how effective this might be -- but this gubernatorial election is all about getting out the vote, not about changing minds.”

Walker has become a top target for Democrats and organized labor for three reasons: he worked to limit union power; a loss would probably end his presidential ambitions; and he suddenly looks much more vulnerable than he did even a few weeks ago.

In 2011, Walker became a darling of anti-union Republicans by proposing and enacting legislation that sharply limited the collective bargaining rights of public employees in Wisconsin. 

The fight over that law rallied unions and led to a 2012 recall election in which Democrats took control of the state senate, even as Walker easily won the right to remain in office by defeating Democrat Tom Barrett 53 percent to 46 percent. 

It also planted the seeds for an investigation into whether Walker’s campaign team illegally coordinated with outside groups during the recall election. The probe, which was suspended earlier this year, appears to have taken a toll on Walker’s popularity.

Poll Results

A Marquette University Law School poll released Aug. 27 found that Burke led Walker 48.6 percent to 46.5 percent among 640 likely voters, well within the survey’s 4.1 percentage-point margin of error. The Real Clear Politics average of recent public polls has Walker and Burke deadlocked at 47.3 percent apiece.

Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee and a Wisconsin native, said Obama’s speech today is evidence that Democrats are worried that their voters won’t show up to the polls in mid-term elections.

“The fact that Democrats feel the need to rally labor voters shows they’re facing an uphill battle this election,” Priebus said in an emailed statement. “The Democrat base is not enthusiastic to vote and labor unions and labor voters have become increasingly frustrated with President Obama.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan Allen in Washington at jallen149@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net Mark Rohner, Andrea Snyder

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