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Wisconsin Recall Showdown Decided: Scott Walker to Face Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

Scott Walker's 2010 opponent gets a rematch, as protester's candidate will face the GOP Lt. Governor.

Wisconsin’s June 5 recall election will be a rematch of the 2010 gubernatorial race that installed Governor Scott Walker in office, with voters Tuesday selecting Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett as the Democratic challenger. 

Barrett prevailed over the union’s favored candidate, former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, but most coalitions are rallying behind the nominee – or at least remaining united against Walker. “Tom Barrett is a strong leader who will end the political turmoil Scott Walker has brought to this state and reunite Wisconsin to get us moving forward again,” said Kristen Crowell, executive director of the labor coalition We Are Wisconsin.

Barrett Late To The Game, But Considered Most Likely To Win 

Barrett’s primary victory will be the first time that Wisconsinites have coalesced around an alternative to their embattled current governor.

Between February and April of last year, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators marched on the state capitol to protest Walker’s austerity budget and attacks on public sector collective bargaining. As temperatures dropped later that year, braved the Wisconsin winter to collect almost twice the number of signatures needed to trigger a recall election over a 60-day period. 

During the signature-gathering campaign, activists say they intentionally avoided naming a candidate to keep the focus on Walker. Their strategy was to make it clear that signing a petition was a choice to recall the governor, rather than a vote in favor of any particular challenger. But that move left Walker opponents without a candidate when signatures were handed in on January 16. 

Barrett only announced his candidacy on March 30, barely one month before the primary election, but after winning his mayoral re-election with 70 percent of the vote. Falk entered the race much earlier and quickly attracted union support for her pledge to veto any budget that did not repeal Walker’s collective bargaining restrictions. 

In December, some union leaders tried persuading Barrett not to enter the race so as to limit competition with their favored candidate Falk. The union-backed independent expenditure group Wisconsin for Falk even briefly aired an ad implying Barrett backed Walker’s attack on collective bargaining. Despite Falk’s early start, polls in the weeks leading up to the primary increasingly showed Barrett with a significant lead over Falk.

Recent polls also showed Barrett in a dead heat with Walker (whereas Falk trailed by several points). This, despite Walker having already spent an astonishing $20 million on the race so far – more than 20 times Barrett has even raised.

Barrett’s perceived strength against Walker appeared to motivate some Wisconsinites to cast ballots for him. “He is most likely to beat Walker,” said voter Dave Baskerville as he left a Madison polling station.

But few seem particularly excited about the Milwaukee mayor. “He’s a nice guy and it seems like his heart is in the right place,” said Madison resident Chris Rapport, who voted for Barrett. “But it would have been nice to have someone who was young, sharp, and fresh out of the box.” 

“Or [former Senator] Russ Feingold,” he said.

Collective Bargaining One Issue Among Many

The governor’s attack on collective bargaining was only one issue among many that could motivate Wisconsinites to cast ballots against him. 

Voters leaving a Madison polling place also commented on how Walker rejected funds for high-speed rail, cut nearly $1 billion for K-12 education, and restricted eligibility for the state’s Medicare program. The governor also touted a vote-suppressing “voter ID” law and ended in-state tuition for undocumented students. 

“He’s taking everything from everybody, not just the unions,” said Madison resident Ernestine Foster-George. 

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