By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — While Wisconsin’s unprecedented gubernatorial recall primary election Tuesday offered few surprises, one GOP strategist said it tapped into the pent-up energy from Republicans, who have been forced to stand on the sidelines too long while their embattled governor was under assault.
In trouncing Republican challenger state Capitol protester Arthur Kohl-Riggs, 97 percent to 3 percent, Gov. Scott Walker netted 627,000 votes on his way to a rematch against his 2010 Democratic opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
Walker received 38,000 fewer votes than Barrett and Barrett’s primary opponents, former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, of Alma.
Walker picked up 614,511 in the 2010 Republican primary election, when he faced former U.S. Rep. and current U.S. Senate candidate Mark Neumann.
“The turnout for Gov. Walker was remarkable,” said GOP strategist Mark Graul, of Arena Strategy Group, a political consulting and public relations firm in Madison and Green Bay. “The race was all but uncontested, but to receive 620,000 votes is unprecedented, and it is an incredibly heartening sign for the governor and his supporters.
While Graul cautions reading too much into the primary, the “side show” to the June 5 “main event” general recall election, the strategist said the strong showing for Walker confirms a tremendous swell of enthusiasm and energy by Republicans who want to “defend Gov. Walker and keep him in office.”
The campaign to recall Walker extends back at least until February 2011, when the governor and the GOP majority in the Legislature rolled out Act 10, the bill — which narrowly became law — curbing collective bargaining for most unionized public employees.
“We would do it now, but we don’t have the opportunity because he has to be in there (office) a year,” American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees President Gerald McEntee told the Huffington Post last winter when asked if the union would try to recall the governor they despise. That was before the Legislature voted on Act 10. “But whether or not we lose this battle, that is one of our possible objectives, to pursue a recall against him.”
That objective was in full force Nov. 15, when the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and liberal political action committee United Wisconsin opened a campaign that would collect more than 900,000 signatures, some 360,000 more than needed to recall the governor.
The anti-Walker movement has in many ways dominated the political spotlight in Wisconsin, from its petition drive and rallies throughout the 60-day collection process to the big media spectacle in January — when members turned in scores of boxes loaded down with petitions — up to the certification and call for recall elections early this spring.
”The first stage of recall, being so one-sided, there was no outlet for other side to show their support for the governor,” said Dan Romportl, executive director of the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, or CERS. “Primary night was the first time, arguably since last summer, that conservatives could show their support by casting a ballot.”
He said that pent-up Republican energy was reflected at the polls, and that should help the four GOP candidates in the Senate recall elections.
But John McAdams, political science professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee, said primary night turnout is not an indicator of what the general election might hold.
In a deeply divided political state, where recall election polls show a statistical dead heat in Walker versus Barrett, campaigns can take nothing for granted.
Democrats say they aren’t.
While his knowledge of Wisconsin geography might be suspect, Democrat political strategist Paul Begala has made a career of knowing red, blue and purple states.
And Begala, part of the political consulting brawn that helped elect Bill Clinton president, has some advice for Wisconsin Dems: Stay unified or die.
“It is only through unity that we will be able to stand up to this unprecedented, unprincipled money machine that Scott Walker has put together,” Begala, regular liberal political consultant on CNN, said in a YouTube video to Wisconsin Democratic Party faithful, posted last month. In the video, he advised recallers they need to take back northern Wisconsin, which he insisted included Sauk County in the southern part of the state.
Walker “has unified his party,” Begala said, a party Begala believes consists of billionaires, ultra-right wingers, “Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals.”
For the record, in 2010 Wisconsin had about 160,000 millionaire households, according to financial analyst firm Deloitte. The report did not list the population of Cro-Magnons or Neanderthals.
Democrats have faced some serious unity questions in the primary race.
Many of the Badger State‘s bigger public-sector unions lined up early behind Falk, eschewing any possible run by Barrett, some calling the mayor “Walker Lite,” for his use of Act 10 tools, such as asking Milwaukee city employees to contribute more to their pensions and health insurance, to fill budget gaps.
Mike Tate, Democratic Party of Wisconsin chairman, spoke of unifying forces rallying around Barrett.
“Despite great efforts by the Walker forces to sow disunity, all of our candidates have run honorable races all informed by respect for each other, for the citizens of Wisconsin, and for the belief that it will be through unity that we beat back the mountains of corporate cash that have put our great state in such peril,” he said in a statement.
Barrett reportedly was not in attendance at a labor-sponsored unity rally Wednesday night in Madison.
While the coalescing around Barrett appears to have begun in earnest, Romportl said the shortened campaign schedule of the recall could make healing old wounds a tall order. He pointed to last summer’s Senate recalls — when six GOP senators and three Democrats faced elections — as proof.
“That was the most challenging cycle for us,” he said. “Even though we were successful in defending our majority (in the Senate), there was an element of scrambling. To think that the Democrats will have a magic wand waved on election day and that all of this comes together, I just don’t think that is possible is less than four weeks.