Ed Gillespie, a senior adviser to Mitt Romney, said Wisconsin is in play for the presidential campaign after the Republican Party’s win in the state’s recall election last night, though he cautioned not to overestimate the victory’s effects nationally.
“I do think it will be competitive in November,” Gillespie said of Wisconsin at a Bloomberg Breakfast in Washington today. “But winning in a recall election does not mean you should put it in your ‘leans-Republican’ column today.”
The win by Governor Scott Walker allows the Wisconsin Republican to finish his term’s remaining two-and-a-half years, ending more than a year of partisan warring in the state over limited government and the role of public-employee unions.
Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, said the vote affirms policies proposed by governors in other states and by Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, that would limit unions as a way of closing budget gaps.
“The election results indicate that there is a receptive message out in the heartland, the country at large, for that center-right approach,” he said.
While President Barack Obama carried Wisconsin in 2008 by 14 percentage points, Republicans won the governor’s office and a U.S. Senate seat in 2010, when Tea Party-backed businessman Ron Johnson defeated incumbent Russ Feingold, a Democrat. Presidential elections in 2000 and 2004 were close, with Republican George W. Bush coming within a few thousand votes of winning Wisconsin in both.
“The playing field has broadened for Republicans,” Gillespie said. “The fact that Wisconsin is in play is revealing.”
Exit polling yesterday showed Obama beating Romney by seven percentage points, when Wisconsin voters were asked which candidate they’d support in the presidential election. More voters also viewed Obama as the candidate who would do a better job handling the economy and on helping the middle class, according to data from the Associated Press.
Walker beat Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a Democrat, in the recall, 53 percent to 46 percent with 100 percent of the state’s precincts reporting in the AP vote tally.
Gillespie also said that Republicans need to do a better job of winning Hispanic voters, who polls show overwhelmingly favor Obama after a primary battle that highlighted Romney’s opposition to providing illegal immigrants a way to legal status.
A May 16-21 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll of Hispanic registered voters found they favored Obama over Romney, 61 percent to 27 percent.
“We do need to do better with Hispanic voters and I think we can,” Gillespie said. ‘We have a lot of room to grow.”
Romney and his aides are working to close that gap, Gillespie said, citing a series of Spanish-language ads released by the campaign and appearances by Romney before Hispanic business groups.
Romney’s campaign also today announced the formation of a group led by prominent Hispanic Republicans to lead his outreach effort. The campaign is calling the endeavor “Juntos Con Romney,” which translates to “Together With Romney.”
Gillespie said Republicans were unlikely to win a majority of the key swing group. Hispanic voters helped propel Obama’s 2008 White House win, backing him by 67 percent to 31 percent over Republican John McCain, according to exit polls.
“It would be hard to go from 31 percent to the majority in one cycle,” he said.
Gillespie said Republicans can decrease Obama’s edge by focusing more on economic concerns than immigration issues. Campaigning yesterday in Fort Worth, Texas, a border state with a 38 percent Hispanic population, Romney blamed Obama for rising joblessness and poverty rates plaguing Hispanic Americans and promised to improve their situation.
“Carrying that message of opportunity, economic growth is the way that we’re going to attract those votes,” Gillespie said.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate among Hispanics and Latinos has risen during Obama’s term, to 11 percent last month from 9.7 percent when he took office in January 2009. That’s three times as big an increase as in the total unemployment rate, which rose to 8.2 percent from 7.8 percent over the same period.
Romney’s campaign is working to stay focused on those kinds of economic issues, said Gillespie, while trying to ignore day-to-day controversies that erupt. One example he cited was the flap after Romney appeared at a fundraiser hosted by real estate executive and reality television star Donald Trump.
“I have not worked on a campaign with more shiny objects than this one,” he said. “We’ve disciplined ourselves on the Romney campaign as best we can to not chase the rabbits.”