MADISON, Wisc. (CN) – In elections today with national implications, Wisconsin voters will determine whether Scott Walker becomes the third U.S. governor recalled in U.S. history; and Republicans must win all four state Senate seats up for grabs or lose control of that chamber.
Today’s recall elections culminate 15 months of divisive politics spawned by Walker’s anti-union Budget Repair Bill. Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch also is fighting to hold onto her job.
Walker’s so-called Budget Repair Bill, 2011 Wisconsin Act 10, stripped public workers’ unions of the power to negotiate anything but salary, and made it harder for them to retain certification – except for state patrol troopers and state patrol inspectors, who tend to vote Republican. The bill inspired a flurry of copycat legislation in states around the country.
Democrats also are trying to oust three Republican state senators who voted for the law, and to fill a fourth seat left vacant when a Republican senator resigned.
If Democrats win just one state Senate race today, they will have a majority in the state Senate and could block Walker’s agenda or help a new Democratic governor restore unions’ collective bargaining.
Walker faces Tom Barrett, who has been mayor of Milwaukee since 2004. Barrett hopes the third time is the charm, after two failed runs for. He lost the Democratic primary in 2002 to then-Attorney General Jim Doyle and was defeated by then-Milwaukee County Executive Walker in 2010.
Walker won the 2010 election by 52.25 percent of the votes to Barrett’s 46.5 percent.
The most recent Marquette Law School poll put Walker ahead in today’s race, by 52 to 45 percent. The poll of 600 likely voters was taken May 23-26, mostly before last Friday’s first gubernatorial debate. Its margin of error was 4.1 percentage points. Walker’s 7-point advantage was statistically unchanged from the 6-point margin in the previous Marquette Law School poll taken May 9-12, when Walker led Barrett by 50 percent to 44 percent.
The polls found voters divided over several issues: education cuts, limits to eligibility in state health insurance, increases to public employees’ benefit contributions, the voter ID law, collective bargaining, increased taxes for the wealthy and limits on state spending.
Barrett’s campaign emphasized the John Doe investigation of former aides and associates of Walker, while he was Milwaukee county executive.
Barrett ran a new ad last weekend, highlighting a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article that uncovered documents which the paper said show that Walker “stonewalled” an initial inquiry into $11,000 in allegedly embezzled funds intended for veterans’ families.
Barrett’s adsaid the John Doe investigation was launched to subpoena records that Walker’s office was “unwilling or unable” to reveal. It claims that Walker refused to release thousands of pages of emails from a secret email system that operated in his office when he was county executive, and that the investigation has already resulted in “6 indictments, 15 felony charges, 2 guilty pleas, and the discovery of a secret, illegal e-mail network.”
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a fairly liberal paper, stunned many when it endorsed Walker in the recall.
The recall election is the most expensive election ever in Wisconsin. Walker, the Republican Governors Association, tea party groups and other conservative organizations have spent $2.5 million to run ads in just the past week, according to data provided by Kantar Media/Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks and estimates the costs of campaign television ads.
The group says Barrett has spent $1.125 million. As of Nov. 1, Walker and his allies have spent $12.3 million on ads, more than twice the $5.6 million spent by Barrett and his allies.
Overall, more than $18 million has been spent on recall ads since Nov. 1, 2011.
Many view the recall election as a preview of the November elections.
According to the most recent Marquette poll, President Obama leads Mitt Romney in the state by 51 percent to 43 percent among likely voters.
Obama won the state in 2008; Wisconsin has not gone Republican in a presidential election since 1984.
Some criticized Obama for not visiting Wisconsin to support Barrett – though former President Clinton visited Milwaukee to speak at a Barrett rally. Some pundits claimed that indicates that Obama does not think Barrett will win. Obama tweeted on Monday night, however: “It’s Election Day in Wisconsin tomorrow, and I’m standing by Tom Barrett. He’d make an outstanding governor.”
Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin President Mahlon Mitchell hopes to unseat Lt. Gov. Kleefisch. According to the most recent Marquette poll, Kleefisch has 46 percent of the vote to Mitchell’s 41 percent; 11 percent of likely voters did not express a preference.
Democrats are confident they will pick up at least one seat to gain control of the Senate. This will determine which party controls the chamber for the rest of the year, as the November elections will renew the Senates makeup for the next 2-year session.
Democrats’ best hopes appear to be former state Rep. Kristin Dexter, who is running against state Sen. Terry Moulton, R-Chippewa Falls; and former state Sen. John Lehman, who is challenging state Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine.
Democrats also hope to pick up the vacant seat in Wausau, which became vacant when Republican state Sen. Pam Galloway resigned in March. Democratic state Rep. Donna Seidel faces Republican state Rep. Jerry Petrowski in that race.
Senate Republican Leader Scott Fitzgerald, of Clyman, is expected to win in his rural southeastern district.
The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections, expects extraordinarily high turnout for a special election: 60 to 65 percent of qualified voters – 2.6 million to 2.8 million ballots in all.
Election officials issued more than 206,000 absentee ballots, according to the board. The board tracks absentee ballots for about one-third of the state’s municipalities, including the largest cities. In the 2010 race for governor, 230,744 absentee ballots were cast statewide.