• WisPolitics

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

 5:04 PM 

Recall primary stock report


Tom Barrett: The Milwaukee mayor will get the rematch with Scott Walker that he wanted, as observers agree he's showing more fire and passion in the second go-round. Barrett rolls to a 24-point win in the primary, beating public employee unions and their fave Kathleen Falk. He emerges from the race without a nasty fight and with an aura of independence just as liberal groups roll in with ads. He immediately turns his attention to Walker, charging the incumbent took his "eye off the ball" of job creation to jet-set around the country raising money. Expect more of the same in the coming weeks, Dems say, as Barrett tries to paint Walker as more a star in love with his national reputation than concerned about putting Wisconsinites back to work. Dems say they're seeing more passion out of Barrett already than what he showed in the 2010 race he lost to Walker by more than 124,000 votes, and insiders are impressed with the size of his win, his winning message ("end the civil war") and his campaign's agility and acumen (the clean campaign pledge and good use of surrogates such as Dave Obey and Herb Kohl). While he was the favorite heading into Tuesday, few expected such a blowout. To some, it's a sign that primary voters decided Barrett was the more electable candidate and wanted to go with a perceived winner. Still, Walker has a financial advantage and the backing of outside groups intent on sending a message for the conservative cause -- things that could overwhelm Barrett unless Dems quickly marshal adequate firepower and third-party support. Some downplay the role of money in this race, saying Walker's already spent $20 million only to be locked in a neck-and-neck race with the mayor.

Scott Walker: No one is surprised the GOP base loves the guv. Still, Republicans are giddy because of the more than 626,000 votes Walker pulls in a primary with only token opposition. That vote total alone is just behind the 665,000 who voted for the four legit Dem candidates in their primary, helping to boost the turnout to the highest in decades and spurring spin that the recall movement has lost its mojo. Insiders say both Barrett and Walker can lay claim to momentum coming out of the primary between the mayor's margin of victory and Walker's turnout. Walker backers brag they really hadn't done anything to prompt their supporters to get to the polls, though conservative talk radio did a good job promoting the vote for Walker instead of meaningless crossover mischief. In addition, the state GOP is touting the more than 2 million voter contacts it's made since January, and insiders say yesterday's primary was the first chance for Walker's backers to vote directly for him since the collective bargaining fight began last February. Just imagine what can happen when Walker lights up the state "like a Christmas tree" with his GOTV effort, one backer promises. Dems downplay the numbers, pointing out Walker has already spent some $20 million in the election. He should have people coming out of the woodwork for him after laying out that kind of cash, they argue. Some Dems also see areas where they can really push turnout above what they saw yesterday. The GOP counter, though, is more than 900,000 people signed the recall petitions; why couldn't Dems turn them all out yesterday? To some, it's a matter of people whose motivation is more about opposing Walker than anything else; they're seen as waiting for the main event June 5. Walker now heads into this weekend's state GOP convention in the crucial swing area of Green Bay, where he'll undoubtedly get another rock star reception from the grassroots and a burst of free media. Finally, insiders don't expect Walker to give up the financial advantage he's had so far. And they claim the guv's actually in better position than some publicly released polls suggest, leading them to believe a top-notch turnout game will deliver victory even if he stays below the all-important 50 percent mark.

Turnout: Insiders thought going into Tuesday the GAB had once again overshot in its prediction for turnout. But the agency gets it right. About 30 percent of the state's voting age population turns out, right in the 30 percent to 35 percent range the GAB predicted. It's the best turnout for a statewide guv primary since 1952. What's more impressive to some is the turnout happened in a one-of-a-kind statewide May primary rather than the usual September slot (and soon to be August). To insiders, it's a continued sign of an engaged electorate. And some suggest turnout could even approach presidential levels on June 5 thanks to both sides pulling out all the stops to get their supporters to the polls.


Mahlon Mitchell: Without any exit polling information, insiders will never know for sure how many GOP voters crossed over to vote in the guv primary for Kathleen Falk. But with 90,000 more votes cast in the Dem lt. guv primary than the guv primary, it's obvious some mischief voting was going on there, insiders say. That helps explain why Mitchell, the Madison-based head of the statewide fire fighters union, pulls just 52 percent of the vote in a race with little-known private investigator Ira Robins and "fake" or "protest" Dem candidate Isaac Weix, who was put on the ballot by the state GOP. Mitchell has the backing of the Dem establishment and many union interests, and he's an attractive addition to the ticket for Barrett, Dems say. He brings union credentials, he's young, he was a key figure in the Capitol protests and he's an African American bidding for statewide office -- sure to boost turnout in the city of Milwaukee, they explain. Barrett and Mitchell won't appear on the same line of the ballot, as they would in a normal fall election, and there's the possibility some voters may go Barrett-Rebecca Kleefisch or Walker-Mitchell. But insiders expect the lt. guv's race to follow the contest between Barrett and Walker, leaving Mitchell's fate largely in the hands of Barrett's campaign.


Kathleen Falk: The former Dane County exec went all-in on collective bargaining in her bid for the Dem guv nomination. But instead of riding a wave of union support -- and money -- to a shot at the guv’s office, Tom Barrett trounces her by 24 points statewide and by even more in her home county. Falk, who has now come up short three times in a bid for statewide office, loses the epicenter of the recall movement in a bad way. According to unofficial returns, Barrett took almost 62 percent of the vote in Dane County, compared to less than 31 percent for Falk. There’s something wrong when you’re losing 2-to-1 in the county where you served as exec for 14 years, insiders say, chalking it up to a series of factors -- from the perception that Barrett is simply more electable in a statewide race with Walker to lackluster favorability ratings for Falk and lingering resentment over her 2006 challenge of Peg Lautenschlager in the Dem AG primary. Falk’s pledge to veto the budget unless it included the restoration of collective bargaining powers also didn’t appear to go over well with voters. Rather than rallying union workers, insiders say, it turned off more middle-of-the-road types and proved a huge liability. Some felt Falk needed to go after Barrett hard in the primary if she wanted to win, but she avoided sharp attacks. Some give her kudos for avoiding tactics that could have damaged Barrett coming out of the primary, while others say the final results suggest it wouldn’t have helped even if she tried. Insiders largely wrote off Falk’s political future after she lost in the 2006 general election for attorney general and say this latest bid looks like the absolute last chapter in her political career. While elected office is likely out of the picture, some wonder whether she’d end up in a Barrett cabinet or the Obama administration. Republicans warn she’d be a top pick for the DNR as they try to rally business interests against Barrett.

Public employee unions: Gov. Scott Walker’s push to rein in the collective bargaining powers of public employees sparked the recall movement. Now, critical insiders say the public employees’ main cause is likely to be a sideshow for the final four weeks of the campaign, as their favored candidate loses badly despite spending millions of dollars. Insiders say it all adds up to egg on the faces of union leaders, who were harshly critical of Barrett in the early going and then tried their best to intimidate him from getting into the race. Now, observers see former Falk backers like AFSCME and WEAC doing their best to make nice with Barrett and show they'll be part of the final effort to get Walker. But insiders say Tuesday’s results help illustrate the limits of union power in Dem primaries. They still have the members and the resources to help drive turnout. But they can't simply anoint the Dem Party nominee, insiders say. Some Dems say the results allowed the party to re-establish itself as the Dem Party and not the union’s party, which will help in the general election. Republicans, meanwhile, do a victory dance and rub in the failure of organized labor to deliver a win for Falk. The question some now have is how hard the labor groups will work to elect Barrett, who they’ve openly feuded with at times over the past several years. To some, it’s a case of grin and bear it. They may not exactly love Barrett, they say, but the unions hate Walker. That alone will motivate them to get to the polls June 5. Insiders say the best they can hope for now is governor who isn’t quite a friend, but also isn’t the enemy.

Dave Worzala: The Dane County treasurer abruptly quits his bid for the 2nd CD on recall primary morning. But like much of Worzala’s campaign, the announcement gets little attention. The Dem was often overshadowed by fellow candidates Mark Pocan and Kelda Helen Roys as well as the recall elections, which made it difficult to become known. In some ways, the recalls could have helped Worzala’s campaign against two better-known opponents, some argue. By compressing the race into less than three months, he could have mounted an aggressive TV campaign and field program while hoping that Pocan and Roys beat the snot out of each other, allowing him to run up the middle to victory. Doing that would have required significant resources, and Worzala made that happen in the early going with big contributions from his own pocket. While there may have been a path for him, some say, it wouldn’t be an easy one. At least he got out of the race before he could be smoked and drain hundreds of thousands from his own bank account, insiders say. Some now see Pocan as the frontrunner for the seat, though other Dems have long complained the establishment has been too dismissive of Roys’ chances. The two have started trying to differentiate themselves, including some jabs over clean campaign pledges and PAC contributions that haven’t caught fire with the public but have been picked up by those watching the race.


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