Supporters for Tom Barrett watch early election returns Tuesday in Milwaukee. (Andy Manis / Getty Images )
WASHINGTON -- If there's a common thread among Democrats and their allies in their collective response to the Wisconsin recall election, it's as simple as this: money talks.
Speaking with reporters on Air Force One, White House spokesman Jay Carney said that in what was essentially a repeat election between Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Walker won by roughly the same margin, but only after "he outspent his challenger by a magnitude of 7 or 8 to 1, with an enormous amount of outside corporate money and huge donations."
"I certainly wouldn't read much into yesterday's result beyond its effect on who's occupying the governor's seat in Wisconsin," Carney said, noting exit polls showed President Obama still held a lead over Mitt Romney among those who voted Tuesday.
National labor leaders claimed some measure of success, noting Democrats recaptured control of the state Senate in Wisconsin.
"A message has been sent. Politicians will be held to account by working people," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters.
As for the gubernatorial result, Trumka said it showed how "Citizens United has ushered in a new era of elections, and it's not a pretty picture," referring to the Supreme Court decision that paved the way for corporations and unions to spend unlimited funds independently to influence elections.
Trumka pointed to a survey of union members who voted Tuesday conducted on behalf of the AFL-CIO that showed 68% of respondents saw more ads supporting Walker and only 7% saw more ads for Barrett, while 20% thought the ad war was a draw. Eighty-four percent said Walker was the candidate who benefited most from spending of outside groups.
Nonetheless, Trumka said his organization would continue to emphasize a boots-on-the-ground approach in elections rather than shift focus to raising cash for television ad campaigns.
"They haven't caught up on the grassroots level yet, and hopefully we'll learn enough and get better enough that they never will," he said.
His advice to the Obama campaign: "Get in early, get in often. … Come up with a good, solid agenda for job creation. Be very clear about job creation, and I think you'll win.”
The Obama campaign's state director in Wisconsin said despite the disappointing result, the reelection team there is "coming out of this effort with a stronger Democratic organization and more engaged supporters and volunteers."
"Tom Barrett and the thousands of volunteers on the ground carried out an impressive battle against a more than $31 million to $4 million spending gap to ensure that our government reflected our values," Tripp Wellde says in a memo from the campaign Wednesday. "The work of the volunteers and supporters across the state for the last year, with considerable help from OFA and DNC, underscores the seriousness with which we will continue this effort from now until November."
Wellde also added a contrarian view that Walker's win could boost the president, in this respect:
"While Scott Walker spent $30 million touting economic progress in the state over the past two years, in November, it is President Obama who will be the beneficiary."
To that end, both men shared a common slogan: "Forward."
"I certainly think that the President's message about the steps we need to take to grow the economy and create jobs will resonate in Wisconsin," Carney said.