Sunday, June 03, 2012

Wisconsin Governor Race

Status: Republican Incumbent
2008 Presidential Result: Blue State (Midwest)

Outlook: Leans Republican

The first statewide general election contest of 2012 will be decided this Tuesday, when a very large turnout of Wisconsin voters will cast ballots to determine if first term Republican Governor Scott Walker will be allowed to complete his term as Governor or if he will be recalled and replaced by Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Less than two years ago, Badger State voters selected Walker over Barrett, the Democrat nominee, by a solid margin, ending eight years of that party's control of the top job in a state that is very competitive statewide, but is seen as typically leaning liberal.

Upon taking office, Governor Walker, backed up by a GOP majority in the State Legislature, set about fulfilling his campaign promises to tackle the state's economic problems by reforming the way that public employee unions have influence in the state. This became a flash-point of great contention as the unions, and their Democrat allies fought the Republican led efforts tooth and nail, even going so far as to have the State Senate Democrats flee the state, at the risk of arrest to hide out and avoid a quorum being present to pass the bills.

Ultimately, the GOP majorities prevailed on most everything they wanted to see happen, but the Democrats vowed to not let go of the fight. In a state, where recall elections are legal, efforts were launched to recall Republican State Senators. While a couple were defeated, others were retained and Democrats failed to take over the State Senate. At the same time, the GOP retaliated by attempting to unsuccessfully recall some of the Democrat Senators who were part of the "Flee Party." These skirmishes, including a heavily watched State Supreme Court race, showed that Republicans got the best out of the turmoil at the ballot box.

Nonetheless, Democrats decided to fight on and attempt to kick Walker out of office, and launched efforts to recall Walker, his Lt. Governor, as well as some additional State Senators. All of this will be voted on Tuesday.    The public employee unions and Democrats across the country converged on Wisconsin to gather enough signatures to force a recall election of Walker and more than easily surpassed the required number, despite some controversies involving invalid signatures. That development, as well as polls showing Walker having lost popularity made it seem quite possible that Walker would be the rare Governor to fall victim to a recall election.

Several prominent Democrats though declined the opportunity to enter the race to try to take on Walker. A handful of others did get into the race, including a late entry in Barrett, who announced his candidacy, right after he was reelected Mayor of Milwaukee. Ironically, the public employee unions had numerous issues with Barrett, the party's standard bearer less than two years before and supported another candidate rather than wanting Barrett to get a chance at a re-match.

When the primary rolled around though early last month, Barrett finished first, and the unions were forced to swallow hard and support him. At the same time, a surprisingly large turnout of Republicans went to the polls to express support for Walker in his party's non-competitive recall primary. Public polls had begun to indicate that Wisconsin voters had soured on all the political fighting and recall machinations and that Walker had moved into a recognizable lead for the June voting.

These polls are showing Walker ahead, but with an extremely low number of undecided voters at this point. Indeed, turnout is the name of the game in Wisconsin, and the unions have been working very hard to get people to vote early. National Democrats appear far less bullish on all this, as Barack Obama, and many others have noticeably sat out the fight, rather than try to jazz up Democrat turnout. Privately, Democrats are said to have conceded the battle and remain quite concerned about negative fallout from the attempt to recall Walker. While several of Walker's fellow Republican Governors have come to the state to campaign for him, the one nationally prominent Democrat to show up, was former President Bill Clinton, who just days ago went to Wisconsin to support Barrett. In 2003, Clinton had gone to California to speak out forcefully against the concept of recalls.

It is worth mentioning that the major issues that led to the efforts to recall Walker involving pension contributions for public employees are rarely being talked about anymore in the campaign. It is as if Democrats now recognize that the citizens of Wisconsin are closer to Walker on those issues than the unions or the left. Instead, Barrett has been focusing more on trying to go after the Governor personally, saying he is seen as a "Rock Star of the Far Right" and raising questions about his ethics, involving ongoing investigations into staffers from Walker's previous job as Milwaukee County Executive. Walker has been able to counter by raising questions about Barrett's record and by simply asking the state to "move forward" and for him to be allowed to finish the job he started not long ago after having been selected over Barrett.

If Walker wins on Tuesday (along with keeping his Lt. Governor and a State Senate majority), there will be much talk on whether all the money and effort that poured into the recall effort was worth it. For one thing, Walker will be as emboldened as ever and indeed will be seen as a "rock star" among the Tea Party and conservatives nationally for standing on principle and weathering the political fallout to victory. With the remainder of his term confirmed, Walker could perhaps be expected to be prominently featured at the Republican National Convention later this year.

An early "reelection" of sorts for Walker is also likely to give him more of a leg-up in winning a second full term in 2014 as Democrats efforts to oust him will have been dealt a major setback. Of course, 2012 comes first though and Republican momentum and a victorious organization as contrasted to Democrat misfires in Wisconsin could have a major impact on the national picture, as it could significantly hurt the Democrats' chances of keeping a competitive U.S. Senate seat in an open election this November. Additionally, it could help Mitt Romney against Barack Obama on the Presidential level in a state that has not gone red since 1984. It is fair to say that Democrats are unlikely to keep a majority in the U.S. Senate if they lose a seat in Wisconsin this year and Obama is not going to be reelected President if he cannot carry the state. This recall election was a major gamble launched by Democrats and if they do not win on Tuesday, there could be massively disappointing consequences for them for some time.

All indications are that Walker is going to win on Tuesday and keep his job, perhaps by a near-landslide margin. However, the volatile turnout situation leads me to classify this race as merely "Leans Republican." My hunch is that Walker wins in the neighborhood of four to seven points. However, if the public employee unions and the state's liberal communities demonstrate rabid enthusiasm to get people to the polls, the results could be nerve-wracking for all involved. It appears though, that Walker's supporters appear just as energized.


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