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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

On Wisconsin

The blogosphere is laden with interesting articles about today’s recall election in Wisconsin. At the Madison-based Progressive magazine, Editor Mathew Rothschild and Political Editor Ruth Conniff explain “What’s at Stake in Wisconsin,” to help set the stage:

After a year and a half of historic protests and unprecedented citizen activism, the recall is a referendum on whether grassroots, democratic action can overcome the power of money in the Citizens United era…In February and March of 2011, Wisconsinites organized the largest sustained mass rallies for public sector workers in the history of the United States and the biggest outpouring of labor activism since the 1930s…The whole country is waiting to see whether or not citizens can overcome the corporate takeover of government in Madison.

The Recall coalition has a compelling case for getting rid of Walker, as Conniff and Rothschild explain:

Walker has made the largest cuts to public education in the history of the state, eviscerating our top-tier public schools as well as a model university and technical college system. In the birthplace of the public employees’ union, AFSCME, he overturned public employees’ right to bargain collectively. He has moved to disempower the state legislature, do away with open meetings, and shred the robust regulatory apparatus that has made Wisconsin a model of good government, environmental protection, and progressive ideals.
…Even as Republican attacks on women were making headlines around the country, Walker was quietly signing legislation to make it illegal for women to sue for compensatory or punitive damages when they’ve been discriminated against in the workplace. He rolled back accurate, age-appropriate sex education. He cut funding for preventive health care at Planned Parenthood clinics. He banned private health insurers from covering abortion in state health insurance exchanges starting in 2014 in almost all instances. And he required a woman who is seeking an abortion to have a one-on-one consultation with a doctor prior to the procedure. The doctor must ascertain whether she is being pressured to have an abortion, and any doctor who doesn’t do that can be prosecuted for a felony.
…Walker and the Republicans pushed through legislation endangering Wisconsin wetlands…[pushed for] massive cuts to public education and an across-the-board attack on everything from labor rights to tenant rights, from health care for the poor to nursing home care for the elderly…As for Walker’s “jobs” agenda, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that Wisconsin had the single worst record in the nation for job losses from January 2011 to January 2012.
All of this in a legislative session that, the governor said, would be all about “jobs, jobs, jobs.”

It’s hard to name a major demographic group Walker hasn’t screwed in some way, other than wealthy Republican contributors. Also at The Progressive, Political Editor Ruth Conniff reports on Walker’s increasing legal problems and allegations that he is a target of a federal investigation into possibie criminal activity during his tenure as county executive and governor. Conniff says “Recent campaign finance filings show that Walker has transferred a total of $160,000 into a criminal defense fund–the only criminal defense fund maintained by a governor of any state in the nation.”
Since there is no indictment yet, Walker’s developing legal problems probably won’t be much of a factor in today’s vote. Regardless of the vote, however, Wisconsin voters could become increasingly sour on Walker and his party by November, especially if Walker’s legal problems multiply.
The most recent polls indicate a close election. John Nichols has a “A Wisconsin Recall FAQ” at The Nation, which sheds light on Barrett’s geographic strategy:

While the Democrat has to renew his party’s appeal statewide — after the disastrous 2010 election — his primary focus is on the Democratic heartlands of Dane County (Madison) and Milwaukee County, as well as industrial cities such as Sheboygan and Racine. Statewide, turnout fell from 69 percent in the very strong Democratic year of 2008 to 49 percent in the very Republican year of 2010.
Much of the falloff came within the city of Milwaukee, where 90,000 people who did vote in 2008 did not vote in 2010. Countywide, 134,000 people who voted in 2008 did not vote in 2010…Scott Walker’s winning margin in 2010 was 124,000 votes. A presidential-level turnout in Milwaukee County could reverse it with 10,000 votes to spare.
Will that happen? Probably not. Milwaukee turnout will need to be accentuated by a spike in turnout in Racine, a historical manufacturing city south of Milwaukee where voting in 2010 was way off from 2008.

Nichols notes that, not surprisingly, Mayor Barrett, former president Clinton and Jesse Jackson all three focused their campaigning in Milwaukee and Racine. Nichols adds “Both sides have put top recount lawyers on notice that their services might be needed. The Democrats have retained Mark Elias, who guided U.S. Senator Al Franken through his 2008-2009 recount fight in Minnesota,” adds Nichols. “Wisconsin law allows for a full recount — at no cost — if the margin in a contested election is less than 0.5 percent. The governor’s race could be that close, as could several of the state Senate contests.”
The New Republic explores possible counter-intuitive boomerang effects of today’s vote on the presidential outcome in November. Noam Scheiber worries that a Mayor Barrett victory over Governor Walker would encourage the Romney campaign to invest billions more in GOTV, but adds “…I do think a Barrett win would be better for Obama in Wisconsin, since it’s likely to deter Romney from going all-out in the state, while a Walker win would give Romney hope and probably demoralize Democrats there.”
Alec MacGillis’s TNR take is that a Walker win today could actually bode well for President Obama’s re-election:

…There are also going to be some swing voters who are going to be voting less on those big ideological questions than on the more general question of whether things are going okay. If these swing voters believe that things are gradually coming back in Wisconsin — no sure thing, given that the jobs expansion there has been less clear than in Ohio — they may decide to vote for Walker less out of ideological solidarity than because they figure it’s foolish to rock the boat with the rare act of a recall. And here’s the thing — to the extent that Wisconsin swing voters draw that conclusion about Walker, they may also be led to support Obama’s reelection, to stick with the guy in charge. Hard as it may be to believe, there is no question these Walker/Obama voters exist — after all, the same polls that have Walker ahead of Barrett in the polls tend to also have Obama ahead of Romney, albeit by a narrowing margin.

Walker may benefit from a belief that Recall elections should be used sparingly. As Citizen Dave Cieslewicz puts it in his post at The Progressive:

The most problematic issue for Barrett may wind up being voters who don’t like Walker’s policies but just don’t believe in recalls. Those voters probably believe that recalls should be reserved for criminal wrong-doing, and the John Doe probe of Walker’s county executive office aides might not be enough for them.

If Cieslewicz is right, much depends on how persuadable swing voters feel about recall elections in general, a good topic to probe in future polls.
The latest polls point to narrowing lead for Scott Walker, indications are it will be a close election. And regardless of the outcome, just making it a cliff-hanger would be a great victory for Wisconsin progressives. Perhaps even more importantly, it sets a solid organizational foundation for victory in the next progressive campaign.
In a way, the Wisconsin Recall has already won something important: showing how an energized, progressive coalition can inspire and educate millions of voters. As Katrina vanden Heuval puts the election in historical perspective in her WaPo op-ed:

…When the results come in, reflect on the vast organizing effort that brought Wisconsin to this moment — and imagine where it still has the potential to go. Elections are over in a matter of hours, but movements are made of weeks, months and years. The Declaration of Sentiments was issued at Seneca Falls in 1848, yet women did not gain the right to vote until seven decades later. The Civil War ended with a Union victory in 1865, yet the Voting Rights Act was not passed until a century later. Auto workers held the historic Flint sit-down strike in 1936-37, yet the fight for a fair, unionized workforce persists 75 years later.

Win or lose today, coming even close sustains hope and gives Dems leverage in the next election. That’s a victory worth celebrating.

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