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WI's lieutenant governor contest important but caught in shadows

By   /   May 29, 2012  /   2 Comments

By Kirsten Adshead | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — Sandwiched somewhere between the gubernatorial recall that America is watching and the four recalls to decide who controls the state Senate is a first-of-its-kind race getting little attention.

Rebecca Kleefisch is the first lieutenant governor in U.S. history to face a recall election.

The position, in Wisconsin and most other states, is largely ceremonial.

The lieutenant governor has no official duties, but steps in if the governor dies, exits office before the end of his or her term, or is otherwise incapacitated.

There is a looming scenario, though, in which the state’s next lieutenant governor could be unexpectedly important.

If Walker wins the recall election but is later forced to leave office — well, then, the lieutenant governor chosen June 5 would become Wisconsin’s next governor.

A lot of “ifs” are built into that scenario — including whether investigators in the super secret, albeit very public, John Doe probe will find Walker at all culpable for activities in which his former aides took part while Walker was Milwaukee County executive.

But, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse political scientist Joe Heim said, “That’s actually a plausible option here, or a plausible possibility.”

There is, however, no indication that Walker will be charged with anything. While his opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, has tried to make the John Doe probe a central part of the campaign, Walker has not been implicated.

And there’s no indication that any new charges, against anyone in the John Doe case, will be announced before Tuesday’s recall vote.

So by most measures, the lieutenant governor's race appears to be a pretty standard election.

Polling data show Kleefisch and Democratic challenger Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin union, are locked in a too-close-to-call race.

In a Marquette Law School poll of 704 registered voters, taken May 9-12, Kleefisch won the head-to-heat match-up against Mitchell, 42 percent to 40 percent.

But that was well within the margin of error of 3.9 percent, and 11 percent of respondents were undecided.

The problem  — for both candidates, but particularly Mitchell — is name recognition.

A high number of respondents — 40 percent for Kleefisch, 64 percent for Mitchell — said they didn’t know enough about the candidates to form an opinion.

“So I would think the vast majority of people are going to vote for the (governor-lieutenant governor) team … even though they’re on separate ballots,” Heim said.

Marquette will release its final pre-recall poll results Wednesday.

The recalls will mark the first time since the 1970s that Wisconsinites have voted for a governor and lieutenant governor separately.

Nancy Milholland of the Racine Tea Party said she thinks that will trip up some people.

“The majority of people are going to be out there voting straight ticket,” said Milholland, who is helping organize a rally Saturday for Walker, Kleefisch and state Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine. “The fear is that they check Walker and if they’re not in a district that there’s a state Senate race, they might be in a big hurry and just check off Walker.”

With separate voting for governor and lieutenant governor, Wisconsin faces a scenario it hasn’t seen since the 1960s — the possibility of a governor and lieutenant governor from separate political parties.

That could increase the tension in an already-fractious Madison. But otherwise, the effect would probably be negligible, particularly given that both seats will be up for grabs again in 2014.

Kleefisch has positioned herself as a strong supporter of Walker’s from the get-go — winning her kudos and criticism.

“Speaking as someone who sees the direct negative impact of his initiatives, there’s absolutely no way I could support someone who supports those,” said Susan Fox, president of the Monona Grove school board.

Milholland said Saturday’s rally is for all three candidates.

“But you know, being women, we really have a special affinity for our strong, female ‘rock stars’ in government,” she said. “She’s one of them.”

The lieutenant governor’s race appears to be closer than the governor’s. In the Marquette poll, Walker led Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett by 6 points.

But Heim expects that, come Tuesday, the Republicans and Democrats will rise or fall together.

“I would think the vast majority of people are going to vote for the team … even though they’re (on) separate ballots,” he said. “I don’t expect a split vote.”

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  • Tpartywarrior

    Vote Walker/ Kleefisch and if a state senate race is in your area, vote the Republican to end these nonsense recalls.

  • Mark M

    The ad campaign by Barrett’s people is hideous. The whole ad is so over the top fear mongering that I will not vote for a person who allows that kind of advertising to be used. It makes me highly suspicious of the motive and the integrity of the Barrett team. He is so far under the belt that he is disgusting, I would not trust him in office at all.