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Poll: Wisconsin's Barrett, Walker in dead heat heading into recall

By   /   May 2, 2012  /   No Comments

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — “If not now, when?”

State Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, urgently posed that question to would-be supporters ofKathleen Falk, former Dane County executive and one of the front-running Democrats in Tuesday’s gubernatorial recall primary.

“I see some people wondering whether this state is ready to elect a woman governor,” Taylor asserted in her April 29 blog on Falk’s campaign site. “If not now, when?”

If the latest Marquette University Poll is any indicator, the answer is not now — at least not Falk.

With days to go before the primary day showdown, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has opened up a 17 percentage point lead over union-backed Falk.

Barrett led Falk 38 percent to 21 percent, according to the poll of 705 registered voters — conducted by phone between April 26-29. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

For the 451 respondents who said they would vote in the Democratic recall primary, the margin of error is 4.7 percentage points.

Secretary of State Doug La Follette trailed in the poll with 8 percent, and 6 percent of respondents said they would vote for state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma.

Falk’s campaign manager, Scot Ross, who is on hiatus from his leadership post at liberal group One Wisconsin Now, fired at the “establishment, pundits and politicians” for counting out Falk from the beginning.

“(B)ut it’s people who will decide this race, as they have throughout this fight against (Gov. Scott) Walker,” he said in a statement.

Political pundits countered that Barrett, who ran against Walker in 2010 and lost by 5 percentage points, is better known than Falk, and many Democrats are itching for an election do-over.

“I think it (Barrett’s large lead) may be because voters are focusing on a candidate who has been more visible in the past who they think can win,” said John Rink, political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. “I think that perception is going to carry Tom Barrett ahead of Falk, and it’s going to be tough for Falk to catch up.”

Dead heat

Barrett edges out Walker 47 percent to 46 percent of 561 “likely voters” in the June 5 general recall election. That’s well within the margin of error, at plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

Barrett has made up ground since last month’s Public Policy Polling poll, which showed the mayor, who had just jumped into the race, trailing Walker by 5 percentage points, although leading Falk by 7 percentage points.

Walker spokeswoman Ciara Matthews in a news release noted Walker’s victory over Barrett in 2010 and the governor’s promise to balance the budget without tax increases.

“Governor Walker has kept those promises, and we are confident that because the positive effects of his reforms continue to create more jobs and keep more money in the pocket of taxpayers, voters will reaffirm the decision they made a year ago,” the statement said.

Barrett’s campaign sounded celebratory in a statement that aimed its ire at Walker’s hefty war chest.

“Despite being vastly outspent and targeted by millions and millions of dollars from Scott Walker and his right-wing special interest allies, Tom Barrett is in a dead heat with Walker in the race for governor,” said Barrett spokesman Phil Walzak in a campaign release.

Money race

Campaign disclosure reports released this week showed Walker raised a record-smashing $13 million between January and late last month, but three-quarters of it coming from individual donors of $50 or less.

Barrett by comparison reported raising $830,000 over that period.

But the notion of the Democrat being crushed beneath the weight of Walker’s war chest may come across as disingenuous in light of a report by conservative news organization Media Trackers that shows organized labor — inside and outside Wisconsin — has dumped more than $7 million into the recall effort against Walker and four GOP state senators.

In last summer’s recall elections of nine state senators, unions and liberal groups spent some $14.7 million.

Barrett benefited from a fraction of the union-funding, Media Trackers found, with much of the campaign cash going to Falk, who holds the lion share of organized labor endorsements. But political pundits say unions, cold on Barrett for his use of provisions in public worker collective bargaining changes that helped ease Milwaukee’s budget woes, are beginning to coalesce around the front-runner.

“For better or worse, Kathleen Falk is tied to that (union issue) and I hate to say it but it may be the wrong issue for this race,” said Joe Heim, political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

The Marquette poll seems to indicate as much.

Twelve percent of Democrats likely to vote in the primary ranked “restoring collective bargaining rights for public employees” as the most important consideration in their nominee choice.

Most important, according to respondents, were:

  • Creating jobs — 46 percent;
  • Defeating Walker — 25 percent;
  • Reducing political division — 14 percent.

La Follette, who has raised a pittance of his chief Democratic rivals and Walker, called all of the money in the recall campaigns “wrong.”

“Super PAC money from large, anonymous donors is wrong whether its for Republicans or Democrats. Fighting Bob La Follette would be disgusted about that,” said the secretary of state, a distant relative of Wisconsin U.S. senator and progressive movement founder Robert La Follette.

It’s the economy, politician

Barrett has staked his claim on ending what his campaign has called Walker’s civil war on Wisconsin.

But it’s the economy that appears to be motivating voters most, as it is in the presidential election. And Barrett has been hammering away at Walker’s handling of Wisconsin’s economy.

The candidate and his party have pushed hard a federal Bureau of Labor Statistics Report last month that showed Wisconsin shed some 23,000 jobs between March 2011 and March 2012, the most of any state.

The Walker campaign fired back that the Milwaukee metropolitan area lost 4,400 jobs in March, 100 more than the total job cuts statewide, according to BLS.

Heim said both campaigns are talking out of both sides of their mouths on the jobs issue, asserting that government leaders have relatively little to do with job creation.

“One of the things you can say about the governor is that he has created a more positive environment for business. That doesn’t necessarily lead to jobs, but it may down the road,” he said.

Climate is what the Walker camp has been selling, including Wisconsin’s stronger showing in Chief Executive Magazine’s 2012 Best and Worst States for Business, released Wednesday.

Wisconsin ranked 20th, up four spots from last year, and 21 spots since 2010, the last year of Democrat Jim Doyle’s two terms.

Walker said his focus has been on creating jobs.

“We’ve done that by balancing our state budget without tax increases, enacting pro-growth initiatives to improve Wisconsin’s overall business climate and reforming our tax, regulatory and litigation processes,” the governor said in a statement.

Tens of thousands of anti-Walker protesters took over the capital in February when Walker began pushing Act 10, the bill, now law, that curtailed collective bargaining for most unionized public employees. That movement spurred last summer’s unprecedented Senate recalls and the recall campaign against Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four state GOP senators in November.

On the ground, Democrats say they will keep the fires of indignation stoked against Walker up to next month’s election.

“The people I know, the people I talk to, the letters I’ve seen, passion (is) very high,” said Jane Witt, chairwoman of the Racine County Democratic Party.

Heim said Republicans and Democrats alike, with the benefit of unprecedented amounts campaign funding, have bolstered their ground games.

Witt conceded the crush of campaign cash is “probably a necessary evil.”

“That’s how you win campaigns, dollars and doors,” the Democrat said.

More numbers from the Marquette Poll:

  • President Barack Obama holds a 51 percent to 42 percent lead over presumptive GOP challenger Mitt Romney. Obama’s job approval rating among respondents was 50 percent.
  • Fully half of respondents said they had talked to other people and tried to show them why they should vote for or against a candidate. And the poll found 26 percent had put up a yard sign or bumper sticker, and 20 percent had contributed to a campaign.
  • Nearly 60 percent said so-called “fake” or “protest” candidates should not be allowed on the primary ballot, with 29 percent saying they should. It’s a bipartisan feeling — 53 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of Democrats don’t like such candidates.