MADISON (Reuters) – Wisconsin Democrats are increasingly confident that efforts to recall the state’s Republican governor in 2012 will succeed, a top official said on Wednesday, after the party scored an early win in its battle to unseat Republicans who backed a controversial anti-union law.
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It seems a little early to be calling the outcome on Scott Walker, but suffice it to say that there is at least a possibility that his days of ruling in Fitzwalkerstan with impunity may be effectively shortened, in one way or another. A poll released within the last week shows that Walker has already far eclipsed predecessor Jim Doyle’s lowest approval ratings by a significant margin – quite an accomplishment, after just six months in office. A Walker visit to Gateway Technical College shows just what a disapproval rating approaching 60 percent can really look like:
Here’s Walker being booed out of a pubic event at Devil’s Lake State Park recently:
Scenes like this may explain why you don’t see him out marching in parades with his embattled enablers and why his events are most often open only to invited guests and “credentialed media.”
A round of recall primary elections this past Tuesday presented contests for which the dynamics are entirely different from anything we’ve ever seen. Bringing six Republicans to off-year recall elections was a feat in itself. Republicans responded by bringing three Democratic senators into recall contests, as well as by putting up “fake Democrats” in the six GOP recall districts – ostensibly to extend the time in which their incumbents could make their case to the voters. (During this extra “campaign time,” the Republicans are rolling out a highly partisan redistricting plan and they’re rushing to pass it before the possibility of losing their majority in the state senate comes into play.)
All of the “fake Democrats” lost in the primaries and that’s no surprise. It’s true that Republican voters in those districts had nothing better to do than to vote in the Democratic primaries in an effort to place the weakest possible competitor up against each Republican incumbent. The problem is that only about a third of voters in many districts tend to be hard partisans on each side and that leaves the outcomes up to the middle third.
As it turned out, voters have more integrity than the Republicans who cooked up the plan — a charade estimated to have cost taxpayers nearly half a million dollars. It takes a special kind of person to re-brand himself as a member of the opposition party and appear on a ballot as a registered hypocrite. It takes a special kind of a party to not only condone, but promote it. But trying to extrapolate these primary results over to general election possibilities seems premature because the question the voters answered last Tuesday was entirely different from the one that they will be asked in August.
All last Tuesday really told us is that voters want genuine candidates who are fit to serve. This Tuesday, Democratic Sen. Dave Hansen should coast to victory in the first general election of this recall season because even the red-leaning district he represents will have enough voters with enough integrity to realize that he is clearly the better alternative. Voters aren’t going to sit around and do political calculus with the Fitzgerald brothers on what this outcome means to the larger scenario. They just know that they would rather not be embarrassed by the rather sketchy-looking candidate who was left alone to carry the Republican flag when GOP Assembly Rep. John Nygren failed to turn in enough valid signatures to make the cut.
In the remaining eight recall races – two for Democrats and six for Republicans – I still can’t say that I see a slam dunk to come up with a net gain of three for the Democrats. I think Dan Kapanke in the 32nd is toast and that he will be taken out by 95th Assembly District Rep. Jennifer Shilling. The next most likely Republican to be ousted may be Randy Hopper, who carries plenty of personal baggage in a rematch of his 2008 race vs. Jessica King that wasn’t there when he took the seat by less than 200 votes.
Sheila Harsdorf’s 10th District doesn’t look all that competitive on paper. There are three Republican Assembly representatives and just across the river in Minnesota, voters keep sending Michele Bachmann back to the U.S. Congress. On the other hand, Joanne Kloppenburg ran decently in that region in the recent Wisconsin Supreme Court race and as a member of the Joint Finance Committee, Harsdorf may earn extra contempt for her support of the unpopular Walker agenda. The GOP worked its base in an unsuccessful bid to take out challenger Shelly Moore.
Next door to Green Bay’s Hansen recall next week, 2nd District Republican Senator Rob Cowles is facing a fairly well known Democratic challenger in former Brown County Executive Nancy Nussbaum. It should be an interesting race, but the district looks fairly red and has three GOP Assembly reps, so it would be an upset if Nussbaum took the general. Republican Senator Luther Olsen has a similar situation in the 14th, although there is one Democratic Assembly representative, Fred Clark, who is taking Olsen on in the recall. Olsen hasn’t had many good tests. Based on that district’s partisan patterns, he still looks to have an edge going in. If Clark wins, the GOP’s problems are huge.
GOP Sen. Alberta Darling will face 22nd Assembly District Rep. Sandy Pasch. The 8th District breaks 2-1 in Assembly representation for Republicans, but Darling won only narrowly with 51 percent of the vote in 2008. As the co-chair of Joint Finance, she has had great responsibility for advancing Walker’s agenda. A recent poll released by the Democrats put Pasch slightly ahead and this may even be the third most likely pickup for the Democrats. I received a fundraising letter from Rep. Paul Ryan for this race, in which he says Darling is trying to do the same thing at the state level that he’s trying to do at the federal level. (If the people of the 8th see it the same way, it may not be such a good thing.) I received another from Walker a couple of weeks ago on Darling’s behalf. Time will tell whether a strategy of linking up with two of the most polarizing figures in the GOP was a good idea.
I expect Democrat Bob Wirch to retain his seat in the 22nd Senate District in southeast Wisconsin. There’s a GOP primary tomorrow in that race which won’t matter. Sen. Jim Holperin in the sprawling 12th is likely a much closer race, pending a Republican primary next Tuesday that will select his opponent. The district has all-GOP Assembly representation and since it may be the Republicans’ only realistic chance to take a seat, resources have been pouring in. Right now, a lot of the focus is on the Aug. 12 general elections, but since the Wirch and Holperin generals won’t be held until Aug. 19, that may very well be when the winning basket is scored at the buzzer.
There are a lot of energized volunteers working on the recalls and weeks of campaigning still to go. Ironically, a three-seat pickup by the Democrats might tend to negate some of the urgency to remove the governor, since it would effectively place a check on his ability to advance his agenda. Recalls are rare for a reason and overall, citizens may not want to see them becoming a way of life. In the meantime, Wisconsin may well see $20 million being spent in nine state senate elections that nobody knew would be happening until a few months ago.
So here’s a question: If Russ Decker had voted to pass the state employee contracts in the lame duck session last December, what would we all be talking about right now?
Gov. Walker ”welcomed” to an event at the Beloit Welcome Center July 18: