Wisconsin recall: What's at stake

Whether they are from such durable publications as the New York Times or international outlets such as the BBC or the French publication Le Figaro, correspondents are descending on Wisconsin for what is increasingly being billed as the “dress rehearsal for November.”

With days to go before Badger State voters decide the fate of Republican Gov. Scott Walker on June 5, the outcome of the third recall election of any governor in U.S. history is being carefully monitored for political tidal waves that could have an impact on the November elections.

Should Walker be ousted in favor of Milwaukee Mayor (and 2010 Democratic opponent) Tom Barrett, Democrats from Wisconsin to Washington, D.C. will certainly have something to cheer about.  Almost from the time he took office last year in January, former Milwaukee County Executive Walker has been a target for his successful efforts to end collective bargaining for most public sector employees and to require them to pay a greater share of their retirement and health care benefits. 

After a string of recall elections that reduced the Republican majority in the senate to one seat, Democrats and organized labor collected more than 900,000 signatures from voters—two-thirds more than they needed—to again place Walker on the ballot this June.  Defeating him will no doubt fuel the hopes of Democrats and labor unions of thwarting similar measures to limit privileges of public sector employees in other states. 

Most importantly, with most polls showing Barack Obama and Mitt Romney locked in a tight race for the presidency, a Democratic win in Wisconsin is sure to give Obama and his party some early momentum.  In addition, union leaders and Democratic workers in general are likely to be encouraged to mobilize their base and repeat in other states the triumph in Wisconsin.  The state’s 10 electoral votes, which Obama carried in ’08, will be considered likely to go into his column again in ’12, and Democrats will also have the early advantage in the now wide-open race for the seat of retiring Sen. Herb Kohl.

“Poster child for conservatism”

In contrast, a victory by the embattled Gov. Walker next Tuesday will fuel Republican hopes of carrying both Wisconsin’s electoral votes and putting the open Senate seat in their hands.  A Walker win is also likely to revive the movement in other states to enact measures dealing with collective bargaining and benefits for state employees.  Last year, when measures similar to those in Wisconsin were enacted by the GOP-controlled state legislature in Ohio and signed into law by Republican Gov. John Kasich, voters went to the polls and undid them by a resounding margin.  With major unions such as the Service Employees International Union pouring millions in Ohio, their triumph in Ohio undoubtedly encouraged them to help fund the petition drive to recall Walker.

“If Scott Walker wins, that means he has walked through a house on fire without a fireproof suit on,” veteran GOP consultant Scott Becher, known as “the mystic of Madison,” told Human Events last week. “And under those circumstances, he’s a ‘fire-walker’ for conservatism in Wisconsin and throughout the country.”

Becher believes that a triumphant Walker “at the very least, will be given a featured speaking role at the Republican National Convention, if not the keynote address.”

At this time, it does appear that the late-breaking trend is toward Walker.  A poll for state Democrats last week and conducted by the pro-recall group We Are Wisconsin, showed Barrett trailing by 3 percent. Another recent independent poll from St. Norbert College and Wisconsin Public Radio showed the governor up by 5 points.

The final surge toward Walker appears to be related to both his ability to go dollar-for-dollar and then some against the labor-backed media broadsides and the down-the-line support for him from rank-and-file and national Republicans.  With major donors including the conservative Koch brothers  and Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson (Newt Gingrich’s former bankroller) sending major checks to the Walker committee, the governor has so far raised over $25 million to combat his opposition.  Of his wealthy backers outside the state, Walker told the Financial Times: “I had never met or talked to any of those folks before I was elected.”

Obviously aware of the national cause celebre that the Walker race had become, all four Republican presidential candidates declared solidarity with the governor when they stumped in Wisconsin before the April primary.  So did the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who hailed Walker as “gutsy and courageous” and predicted he will have “other opportunities” if he wins.

In contrast, neither Barack Obama nor Joe Biden nor any national Democrat has visited Wisconsin to stump for Barrett.

One thing is will be quite obvious when the results are final June 5:  that whatever the outcome, one will hear about Wisconsin’s impact nationally for quite some time.