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Tom Barrett's primary win sets up rematch with Gov. Scott Walker

May 09, 2012|By David Lauter
  • Gov. Scott Walker greets supporters at an election night rally at the Waukesha County Republican Victory Center in Waukesha, Wis.
Gov. Scott Walker greets supporters at an election night rally at the Waukesha… (Charles Auer / AP Photo/The…)

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's easy victory in Tuesday's Democratic primary turns Wisconsin's recall election into a rematch -- a bitter, $80-million, four-week argument over whether voters will reaffirm, or reverse, the 2010 election.

The campaign to unseat Republican Gov. Scott Walker -- only the third attempt to recall a governor in U.S. history -- has deeply and evenly divided the state. A poll released last week by Marquette University Law School showed Walker and Barrett neck and neck with only 4% of voters undecided. Walker defeated Barrett in 2010 by nearly 6 percentage points.

Already, the recall campaign is shattering state spending records. Walker, who under recall election rules was allowed until recently to accept unlimited contributions, has raised more than $23 million, with about 60% of his money coming from out of state. Barrett has raised only about $1 million, but outside groups on both sides have raised millions more.

Total spending on the race is expected to hit $80 million, with much of the money being used in the four weeks between now and the June 5 election. That would be more than twice what Barrett, Walker and outside groups spent for the entire year leading up to the 2010 contest.  

The huge amounts reflect the national attention paid to Wisconsin since early last year when Walker pushed a bill through the state Legislature ending collective bargaining rights for teachers and most other public workers. Ever since, he has been a hero to conservatives and an object of fury among unions and other groups on the left. In January, opponents turned in more than 900,000 signatures on recall petitions – an astonishing number in a state where Walker won roughly 1.2 million votes to gain election.

Walker argues that his move to curtail unions allowed the state and local school districts to balance their budgets without raising taxes. A Barrett victory would take the state "backward," he says.

Barrett points to data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics showing that Wisconsin is the only state to have lost a statistically significant number of jobs over the last 12 months.

 "This election is not about fighting past battles, it is about moving forward together to create jobs and get our economy moving again," the Democrat said in a statement Tuesday night. "Wisconsin cannot afford to continue to suffer through Walker's ideological civil war."

 Walker carries several advantages into the race – the enormous amount of money at his disposal, the fact that he beat Barrett once before and the June election date, which means the state’s colleges will be out of session, probably reducing the number of young voters, who lean Democratic.

 On the other hand, the only other governors to face recalls – California’s Gray Davis in 2003 and North Dakota’s Lynn Frazier in 1921 – both lost. And the intensity of anti-Walker sentiment on the Democratic side is likely to blunt the impact of negative ads that Walker already has begun running against Barrett. Turnout on both sides is expected to be very high.

With the primary over, Democrats moved quickly to unite. Barrett gained support Tuesday night from unions that had backed his chief rival, Kathleen Falk, the former chief executive of Dane County, which includes the state capital of Madison. Barrett won the primary with about 55% of the vote to Falk’s 37%, according to preliminary results. Two other candidates were far behind.

 A possible wild card in the race is an investigation by Milwaukee prosecutors into unspecified events during Walker’s tenure as chief executive of Milwaukee County. The governor has hired two criminal defense firms. He says he has been told he is not a target of the investigation. Three former aides and a campaign contributor have been charged, but details of the investigation have remained secret.

Original source: Tom Barrett's primary win sets up rematch with Gov. Scott Walker

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