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COMMENTARY: For Wisconsin Democrats, recalls are a national fight

By   /   July 5, 2011  /   No Comments

By Kevin Binversie

For liberals nationwide, the 2012 election starts this summer with nine recall elections in Wisconsin. For liberals, these recalls aren’t just about Wisconsin; they’re about the country’s very future. It’s a national fight that won’t just set the course for Wisconsin, but the course to congressional and presidential victory in 2012 and beyond.

Groups, such as We Are Wisconsin, a union front group said to have millions of dollars at its disposal, are coordinating simulated grassroots advocacy. Chief spokesman Kelly Steele holds near daily phone calls with friendly media in Washington, D.C., and other groups to explain the political layout of the land.

Yet, even with all that in its arsenal, Wisconsin liberals want more.

Wisconsin Reporter has gone over a number of websites from groups like We are Wisconsin, Defending Wisconsin and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. The groups are recruiting as many out-of-state volunteers as possible to work the upcoming recall campaigns. The sites urge volunteers to work “Virtual Phonebanking,” so they could make phone calls to Wisconsinites from the comfort of their homes anywhere in the state or across the country.

But more interesting and daring is the final-day push for volunteers. Interested volunteers are given their choice of 12 cities in any of the nine recall districts. Volunteers then are told “more information” would be sent to them about car rentals and hotels in the particular city or district of their choice. One group appears to be going as far as saying they’d work to line up lodging at members’ homes for out-of-state volunteers in these districts.

No indication is given if the volunteers would be paying for their hotel stays and car rentals, if they could arrange for payment elsewhere, by someone else, or who would be picking up the tab.

State Democratic and Republican party officials did not return calls asking whether these tactics are common or new.

As the end game begins in the Wisconsin recall fight, more will come out about outside groups and outside spending. But so far on the organizing front of the ground game, it appears liberals — with their ability to bring in national groups with better ease — have a leg up on their conservative counterparts.

This past month, at the annual Netroots Nation convention in Minneapolis, thousands of self-described progressive online and grassroots activists gathered to hear tales from those who protested in Madison.

Others were more concerned about what they could do in the nine state Senate recall campaigns.  During one panel, Democracy for America, a group founded by former Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean, announced it would be spending more than $1.5 million on the Wisconsin recall effort.

A spokeswoman for the group announced the plans during a panel discussion and described how they intended to hire staff in at least three recall districts. The group went so far as to organize a bus for convention-goers to canvass in nearby Hudson, for Shelly Moore, the Democratic challenger to state Sen. Shelia Harsdorf.

Other than a phone bank on-site sponsored by Americans for Prosperity at the competing convention, RightOnline, there appeared to be little national effort to help conservatives in Wisconsin.

The recall elections start next week. The schedule is:
On July 12, Democratic primaries will be held in six GOP-held Senate districts —  Nancy Nusbaum and Otto Junkermann in District 2, a seat held by Robert CowlesGladys Huber and Sandra Pasch in District 8, a seat held by Alberta DarlingMoore and Isaac Weix in District 10, a seat held by Harsdorf; Rol Church and Fred Clark in District 14, a seat held by Luther OlsenJessica King and John Buckstaff in District 18, a seat held by Randy Hopper; and James Smith and Jennifer Shilling in District 32, a seat held by Dan Kapanke.
A general recall election between the incumbent and the primary winner will be held Aug. 9.
On July 19, in addition to the recall election between David VanderLeest and Dave Hansen, Republican primaries will be held in two Democratic-held Senate districts —  Robert Lussow and Kim Simac in District 12, held by Jim Holperin; and Fred Ekornaas and Jonathan Steitz in District 22, held by Robert Wirch.
A general recall election between the incumbent and the primary winner will be held Aug. 16 in those races.
Kevin Binversie is a Wisconsin native who has been blogging on the state’s political culture for more than eight years. He has served in the George W. Bush administration from 2007-2009, worked at the Heritage Foundation and worked on numerous Wisconsin Republican campaigns in various capacities, most recently as research director for Ron Johnson for Senate. Contact him at [email protected].