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Wisconsin's Recall Drama Down to Nail-Biting Finish

Wisconsin's recall is being driven by the same activists who turned out by the thousands to occupy their capitol when Walker attacked workers' right to bargain collectively.

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Bell and Colburn were more positive about Barrett, saying that their members had no problem pivoting to support Barrett in the recall, but they all stressed the importance of removing Walker from office.

Barrett's running mate is a genuine hero of the Wisconsin labor uprising, the young, charismatic firefighters' union president Mahlon Mitchell, challenging Kleefisch for lieutenant governor, was a symbol of the refusal of unions to be divided by Walker's policies. Firefighters and police were left out of Walker's attacks on public workers' rights, but Mitchell and other firefighters plunged straight into the fight on the side of the teachers and healthcare workers who lost their collective bargaining rights, and the Madison Professional Police Officers' Association, among many others, has supported Mitchell's campaign.

The Senate campaigns haven't gotten nearly as much attention as the governor's race, but after the resignation of former State Senator Pam Galloway, one of the Republicans who would have been facing recall, the Senate is evenly split between Dems and the GOP. That means only one of those races has to be won by a Democrat in order for them to retake that chamber—and two of them appear to be winnable. Another, which the Dems don't really expect to win, is nevertheless an exciting race, as Lori Compas, a fierce activist, did what many thought was impossible and forced a recall against the Senate Republican leader, Scott Fitzgerald (whose name is often combined with Walker's for the nickname “Fitzwalkerstan”).

The unions and pro-labor groups are working independently of the official Barrett campaign and the Democratic party. Indeed, the recall from the beginning has been outside of official party goals, and was driven almost exclusively by volunteers, both union and non-union. Election laws require that unions and coalitions like We Are Wisconsin operate as independent expenditures and don't coordinate with the candidate—which leaves them free to have their own message. “Everybody in the TAA who is engaged, people who voted to not endorse Barrett, they are still getting out the vote, are still using their own time and their own money to recall Scott Walker,” Reiter noted.

It remains, to the end, a grassroots battle. Leah Luke, the 2010 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year, who's been a part of the fight against Walker from the very beginning, told AlterNet, “All the money that's coming in to the state to support Walker, I contrast that with my little humble $25 donation here or $5 donation there, but when it comes down to it I still get a vote, my neighbor still gets a vote. They can pump all the money in from out of state they want but it all comes down to voters.”

Organized People vs. Organized Money

“There's this perception that somehow labor is not excited. Our folks are on fire, this is what they have been waiting for since February 14, 2011,” Mary Bell said. "The election itself is historic, we've never been through this before, there have only been three of these in the country." 

The fight in Wisconsin has indeed been going on for so long that it seems hard to believe that there could be an undecided voter anywhere in the state. Instead, it's all coming down, in the final days, to a massive get-out-the-vote effort. “The kind of phony ads that are usually run aren't really having much influence,” Colburn pointed out, because most people know which side they're on.

Kevin Pape, a regional director with Working America, the AFL-CIO's affiliate that organizes nonunion workers, has been leading an effort in Wisconsin since before Walker rolled out his anti-union bill. “20,000 people joined our organization in the first week after Walker passed Act 10,” Pape told AlterNet. “It was really remarkable for us to see. We've been organizing nonunion folks since 2003. After Act 10, people that were opposed to Walker's policy really wanted any connection to the labor movement that they possibly could have. We had a huge uptick in people wanting to join, whether through our normal door-to-door program or going to our website.”