Mayor Tom Barrett’s relatively easy victory on Tuesday was a surprise to few, as most of his primary advertising focused on the big prize: defeating Gov. Scott Walker. However, Barrett, having lost the governor’s race to Walker in 2010, knows his goal will not be accomplished any easier the second time around.
In that 2010 race, Walker beat Barrett by just over 123,000 votes, or a 52-47 percent margin. It is hard to imagine that the vote total of 2.12 million will be exceeded on June 5 given that on the 2010 ballot there was a U.S. Senate race, as well as competitive Congressional races and legislative races everywhere across the state. That turnout number is the laser focus of each of the campaigns as they look for the winning formula on June 5.
Recent polling shows a race too close to call. As we move toward the final four weeks, here is an analysis of what could happen to push the race in either candidate’s favor.
Why Walker Wins
Walker has turned into a conservative cause célèbre nationwide and used this to raise unprecedented amounts of money for his campaign coffers. Since January 2011, Walker has raised over $25 million, including over $13 million in the most recent three-month reporting period. The last report stated he had just under $5 million on hand, but as he has shown, he is able to raise whatever amount of money he needs to run his campaign.
The money disparity between candidates is staggering. It is hard to imagine any candidate overcoming a war chest like the Governor’s. When combined with third party advocates, pro-Walker forces will continue to dominate every medium in every market.
While his intense messaging program has not necessarily resulted in perceived gains via public polling, he still holds an edge in most polls. In addition, voting intensity seems to favor Walker, especially in areas outside of Madison and Milwaukee, and he knows he can count on suburban Milwaukee to post big margins in his favor on election day. The strong turnout for Walker in the recall primary underscores this point.
Republicans have already brushed back a couple of attempts from those making anti-Walker statements, first in the Supreme Court race in April of 2011 and then a few months later with the first round of senate recalls. Both of those elections provided silver linings for Democrats, but ultimately were victories for Republicans. Those attempts occurred in an electoral environment where the anti-Walker sentiment encouraged large numbers of voters to turn out at the polls, whereas now Walker’s base appears stronger than Barrett’s, especially considering the large number of voters that turned out to vote for Walker in a primary election he was basically guaranteed to win.
Intensity from Walker’s opposition does not appear to be as strong as it may have been in the past. There are primarily three reasons for this.
First, “recall fatigue.” Republicans believe they can see a palpable sentiment from voters who have tired of the constant state of recalls over the past 18 months. While this is not a voter motivator per se, it means those who earlier in the process may have been much more likely to come out and vote against Walker might no longer be motivated to go to the polls.
Second, separation from the event itself has taken an edge off opposition intensity. What was outrage at the time has ebbed for some, especially outstate, and could lead to Democratic voter drop-off, especially in areas where turnout mechanisms are not in place.
The third issue lies in Barrett’s candidacy. Early on, Barrett was not the favorite candidate of most Democrats. He became those voters’ plan B when candidates like former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold and retiring U.S. Senator Herb Kohl made clear they did not intend to run.
Finally, one of the primary knocks on Walker is job losses in Wisconsin. However, Barrett in part negates that argument since job losses in the City of Milwaukee account for a large portion of the jobs lost statewide.
Why Walker wins: His financial edge is staggering, his voters are more reliable, his top negative issue is mitigated.
Why Barrett Wins:
Barrett’s path to victory seems to be relatively simple and comes down to turning out three target voter groups*:
Union voter switch. Democratic insiders have analyzed polling from Walker’s 2010 victory and found a substantially disproportionate (when compared to average partisan split) number of union voters who supported Walker over Barrett. It is hard to put a vote total on expected switch, particularly since Kathleen Falk was the union-backed candidate in the recall primary, but every 2010 voter who switches to Barrett is a two vote swing. With hundreds of thousands of labor households in Wisconsin, that number could be significant.
Recall petition signers. The recall petitions are a gift from grassroots heaven – names and addresses of people who you know support your candidate. While the actual number of valid signatures is debatable, it is hard to believe it isn’t upwards of 80 percent of Barrett’s vote total from 2010. This universe of names is invaluable and will allow the Barrett campaign to target voters efficiently and effectively. In addition, there are thousands of voters who signed the papers who did not vote in 2010. Granted, these are the most difficult Wisconsinites to get to the polls, but their names and addresses are available.
Sporadic Republicans. Team Barrett has to hope that the anti-Walker message that floods the airwaves in the weeks to come is enough to keep a number of non-habitual Republican voters home. Two messages that speak to these voters would be Wisconsin’s job losses (50 out of 50 nationally in job growth is a strong counter argument to “It’s working”) and the John Doe investigation into Walker’s office during his tenure as Milwaukee County Executive.
*Some may argue that the hundreds of thousands of Democratic leaning drop-off voters are a fourth pot here, but if these voters did not come out in 2010 with so many more races on the ballot it’s not likely they will vote in the recall when there are even fewer elections at stake.
Why Barrett wins: Union voter switch, recall signer turnout, and Walker’s negatives combine to erase the 120,000 vote difference from 2010.
The recall process resulted in the offices of Governor and Lieutenant Governor being recalled under separate efforts. Whereas in a normal midterm general election the Governor and Lieutenant Governor are voted for as a ticket, in the recall elections they are voted for separately.
In this race is the incumbent Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who has had the backing of hundreds of thousands of dollars on television, running against Mahlon Mitchell, who in Wisconsin political parlance is a relative unknown. Is it possible that Barrett could get elected and that the more well known, better financed lieutenant governor candidate could hold on to her office leading to a split executive branch? This is Wisconsin…
For political insiders, the possibility of what could happen after the election is just as intriguing as the election itself. In typical years there is a two month transition period from the elections to inauguration. An incoming governor has time to assemble a team and start to fill the hundreds of positions throughout state government that are politically appointed.
Gaining an understanding of what positions need to be filled, what boards need appointees and new chairs, and what processes need to be followed takes weeks. In addition, as with any administration, each individual applicant or appointee needs to be vetted (by the governor-elect, the press, and the public), which also takes time.
Many of the political appointees are the decision makers in their agencies, and could be in charge of significant program shifts that were recently instituted. A new administration has to quickly get up to speed as to how each agency operates; including the goals, procedures, budgets, and timelines.
A typical outgoing administration has the ability to help its political appointees find a soft landing spot after their stint as a public servant. There are many hardworking, good people who serve their government who have to find new jobs, in what is now a tough job market. Oftentimes, even the typical two-month transition period is not long enough for all appointees to find a new job.
So what becomes of the transition period under the current recall situation? According to the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB), which oversees state elections, it has up to 18 days to certify a special election. Upon certification, the incumbent is officially out of office. Also, once that certification is issued, the new governor has 10 days to take the oath of office.
This timeline leads to a number of questions (for example, who is running the state post certification but pre oath of office?), but it is our guess that the GAB would work with both parties in an attempt to provide a smooth transition. However, it is very possible that the difficult task of turning over an administration would have to happen in just a couple of weeks’ time.
As this wild chapter of Wisconsin political history comes to a close in the next four weeks, Hamilton Consulting will continue to provide election analysis and updates.
- Also read: Recall Elections Key to Control of the State Senate
- Download a printable .pdf version of our full report:Wisconsin’s Political Outlook: Special Recall Edition.