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Walker, Barrett Sprint to Finish Line in Wisconsin

Walker, Barrett Sprint to Finish Line in Wisconsin

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - June 4, 2012


MADISON, Wis. -- Nearly a year and a half of anti-Scott Walker protests will come to a head Tuesday when Wisconsinites decide whether to replace the Republican governor with Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

But the effort that began with rallies and sit-ins in this state capital after Walker signed a law limiting collective bargaining rights for public workers has morphed into a national campaign with presidential election overtones.

It is both risky and something of an overreach to project a parallel between Tuesday’s outcome and the results of the Obama-Romney face-off in the fall; a win for Walker hardly guarantees victory for his GOP counterpart, and vice versa. But the recall race highlights the intense political polarization here in the Badger State, which mirrors that seen throughout the country, and Tuesday’s outcome figures to be a barometer for the electorate’s mood five months ahead of Election Day.

Walker suggested the recall would test the fundamental Republican value of small vs. large government. “I think it will have implications for everybody’s election in America,” he said in a brief interview with RealClearPolitics. “I do think in the larger context, voters are sending a message that if you’re willing to take on tough challenges, voters are willing to stand with you. It’s not just about elections -- it’s more about what elected officials do in the future after they get elected.”

Most voters here have already made up their minds, so Tuesday’s winner could depend on the turnout. The state elections board is predicting presidential-level participation and polls show a tightening race. A Public Policy Polling (D) survey released Monday shows Walker with a slim 50 percent to 47 percent lead. Last week, a Marquette Law School poll found Walker leading by seven points. Democratic polling found the pair running neck-and-neck. (The RCP Average shows the incumbent ahead by 6.7 points.)

Walker, the third governor in the nation’s history to face a recall, sounded upbeat about his chances while stopping by a campaign office in Fitchburg on Sunday night. After so many months of politics, Wisconsin voters are “ready to move on and move forward,” he told reporters.

Walker and his fellow Republicans invariably say they are “cautiously optimistic” about winning Tuesday. “We’re tortured by good news,” says Brian Schimming, a state party vice chairman, who worries that Walker’s lead in the polls may signal to voters that the governor is safe. Schimming anticipates long lines at voting stations, and hopes voters don’t become discouraged by the crowds. “We need those people to stand in line all day long if [they] need to,” he says. If Walker wins, he says, “we will redefine the term ‘epic fail’ ” for labor and Democrats.

Meanwhile, Democrats say national Republicans are trying to dampen their side’s turnout by touting the polls. “They know this race will come down to a base-versus-base battle of turnout for which a grass-roots movement has been building and organizing for 15 months,” says Ryan Rudominer, a Democratic strategist and a Wisconsin native.

Democratic Governors Association Chairman Martin O’Malley and former President Bill Clinton have visited the state ahead of the voting, but President Obama has been a notable no-show. Strategists say he has his own race to run, but the president’s absence suggests the White House doesn’t want to take ownership of the outcome and risk alienating independents.

Democrats have won the presidential race in Wisconsin in every election since 1988. Obama won by a wide margin, though Gore and Kerry took the state by slim ones. The state has 10 electoral votes at stake in November, and because of the recall, both parties have activated their state infrastructures much earlier than in previous years.

As their contest tightens, Walker and Barrett are traversing this large state with several daily events each before the historic vote. The pair actually crossed paths at a dairy farm Sunday morning, where they met with voters and helped serve breakfast. Both candidates will hold rallies Monday evening to make their final pitches to voters: Walker says that his policies have erased a 3.6 billion budget deficit, saved Wisconsinites $1 billion, and decreased property taxes, and that Barrett will govern the state the way he does Milwaukee, one of the poorest cities in the country.

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Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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