Wisconsin voters chose Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to run against incumbent Governor Scott Walker in the first gubernatorial recall election in the state's history. It has been 450 days since the first protests against Walker's bill to strip state workers of collective bargaining rights sparked massive protests and an 18 day occupation of the Capitol building. Now, there are only 28 days left before a general election that will decide the next governor of the state.
Barrett told MSNBC: "It will be a wild and woolly 28 days."
Barrett got 58% of the vote. He was trailed by Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk at 34%, State Senator Kathleen Vinehout at 4%, and Secretary of State Doug Lafollette at 3%. Wisconsin State Firefighters President Mahlon Mitchell easily bested two unknown candidates for the right to run in the recall against Republican Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch. "Real" Democrats easily defeated the "fake" Democrats run by Republicans in four key State Senate recall elections, which will determine whether Democrats retake that body. Democrats recalled two State Senators in the summer of 2011 and only need to knock off one more to take control of the chamber and put a stop to the GOP agenda. In 2010, Walker beat Barrett by 5% during a national tsunami that swept Democrat Russ Feingold and many other long-serving Democrats out of office and gave the GOP trifecta control of 26 statehouses.
Walker faced a symbolic challenge from self-described (and attired) "Lincoln" Republican Arthur Kohl-Riggs, who received 3% of the vote in the Republican primary. Active campaigning by Walker and full mobilization by right-wing talk radio pumped up voter turnout in the Republican primary to unexpected levels.
State is a Hotbed of Politics
A June 5 general election will determine whether Walker becomes the third governor in U.S. history to be recalled.
The primary showcased a booming interest by Wisconsin voters -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- in the political process. A new Marquette University poll showed that nearly twice as many Wisconsin voters have attended a political rally or demonstration as in the 2008 presidential election, which was one of the highest turnouts ever. One in five has made a campaign contribution, one in four has bought a bumper sticker or posted a yard sign. These numbers show a much higher level of political engagement than comparable national figures.
670,000 voted in the Democratic primary. 647,000 voted in the Republican primary, even though Walker did not have serious competition. Undecided voters comprise a minuscule part of the electorate, polling at one to two percent of likely voters.
These undecided voter will be the targets of millions in campaign dollars yet to be spent.
Walker Has Spent $20 Million But Has Not Convinced Many Voters
Despite spending a record $21 million over the past few months -- during which all Democrats combined barely raised $2 million -- polling shows that as many voters still dislike Walker as like him. For the first time, the recent Marquette poll has Barrett beating Walker 47-46% among registered voters, putting the race in a statistical dead heat.
Even though unions are anticipated to come in strong for Barrett, he is still likely to be at a financial disadvantage to Walker, who has been traveling around the country raising huge sums from out of state millionaires -- more money than any other candidate in Wisconsin history. For a period of time, he was allowed to raise unlimited amounts of money, and he did, many in $250,000 contributions. 74% of Walker's individual contributions are from out of state.
Walker is also backed by huge independent expenditures by the Republican Governor’s Association and the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity Group. Both groups have spent $2-3 million each on TV ads in support of Walker and are anticipated to spend much more.
As for the Democrats, they feel that they have two critical issues on their side: Walker’s abysmal jobs numbers and an on-going criminal investigation of his former staff that has gotten very little state-wide attention.
"John Doe" Ads Launched Against Walker
The Democrats have focused their ad campaign on a single issue: jobs. While Walker ran on a promise to create 250,000 jobs, his austerity budget sent jobs off a cliff in the summer of 2011, reversing a positive trend. Wisconsin has shed 23,900 jobs from March 2011-March 2012, the worst performance in the nation. Polling shows that residents are deeply concerned that Wisconsin appears completely delinked from the modest federal recovery.
But today, with the primary out of the way and the battle lines drawn, independent expenditure groups took out one of their biggest weapons in the recall, the 15 felony indictments against Scott Walker's former aides and associates emerging from a secret "John Doe" probe being run out of the Milwaukee District Attorney's office.
The ads detail the 15 felony indictments of Walker’s former staff. These include indictments for illegal campaigning on the public payroll, indictments for embezzlement of veterans' funds, illegal campaign contributions, and even solicitation of minors.
Walker has denied that he is a target of the John Doe investigation, but he has hired two groups of criminal defense firms and has established a criminal defense fund, a fund that by statute is only available to a public official when they are actual subjects of a criminal investigation.
Mordecai Lee, a respected professor of government at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said that the general recall election will rank among the most important in Wisconsin history. "In a handful of political events in Wisconsin's history, this is on one hand," said Lee, a former Democratic state senator. "This is just an unbelievably important moment."
Four hundred and seventy-eight days after the Wisconsin Uprising began, an extremely active and engaged electorate will either recall or reinstate Scott Walker.
CMD's Jonathan Rosenblum contributed to this report.