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What To Watch For In The Wisconsin Recall Elections What To Watch For In The Wisconsin Recall Elections

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What To Watch For In The Wisconsin Recall Elections

June 23, 2011
How Engaged Will Voters Be? The controversy over the collective bargaining law transformed April's state Supreme Court race into a nationally-watched contest, and voters turned out at an unusually high rate. Almost 1.5 million people -- or roughly 34% of voting-age adults in the state -- voted in the election, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. That level of engagement dwarfs previous judicial races and almost equals the turnout for the presidential election primaries of February, 2008 that featured national political stars Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Mike Huckabee, among others. But that enthusiasm might not carry over to the recall races. Some voters may have grown less interested in or passionate about the state's collective bargaining saga as the months have drawn on. And the judicial contest provided just one statewide race and two candidates for advocacy groups easily to shape the debate around, whereas attention and media coverage will be more fractured with the nine different recall elections. The potential for lower voter turnout -- and varied levels of turnout among the different races -- will alter the strategies employed by the parties and the outside groups that are likely to pour money into the races. Will Democrats Be Able To Pin The Ryan Plan On Republicans? House Budget Chair Paul Ryan's Medicare reform proposal has emerged as the most polarizing issue on the national political landscape. Even though it has no connection to the collective bargaining debate that led to the recalls, Democrats will try to tie Republican recall candidates to Ryan's policies. Earlier this month, opponents inquired about whether Ryan would attend a Milwaukee fundraiser for Republican state Sen. Alberta Darling, who is considered one of the more vulnerable Republicans facing recall. Earlier this month, a video surfaced online in which Darling refers to Ryan as "a hero," giving Democrats ammunition to inject the Medicare controversy into the recall race. If Democrats are able to make the Ryan budget a legitimate campaign issue -- and force Republicans to give a concrete answer to their stance on the proposed Medicare overhaul -- it could alter the dynamics of the races and help attract increased interest from outside groups. Will There Be Fallout For The 2012 U.S. Senate Race? More than a month has passed since Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., announced he wouldn't run for reelection, and not a single candidate has entered the race to replace him. The most high profile recruits for each party -- former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson and former Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., -- both have involved themselves in the recall drama. Feingold has visited the Capitol protesters and delivered fiery rhetoric about the stakes surrounding the collective bargaining law. And Thompson has said he won't decide on a Senate run until the end of the summer so that he can lend a helping hand to the Republicans in the recall elections. Feingold and Thompson lend some star power to the recall races, but their respective decisions also could end up being influenced by the recall results. The summer elections might serve as a barometer for Wisconsin's political climate and an indicator for the direction the state's voters are leaning in the lead up to 2012. If Republicans suffer big losses, Thompson once again could decide to sit on the sidelines after a prolonged flirtation with a return to politics. The results could help Feingold decide whether to launch a bid for a return to the Senate or wait for 2014 and a potential challenge of Republican Gov. Scott Walker. How Much Outside Money Will Be Spent? Outside groups spent $4.5 million on the state Supreme Court race, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, and the recall election could see an even bigger infusion of outside cash. Walker told the GOP state convention in May he believed national labor unions would spend $20 million to $25 million to help Democrats in the recall races. How much each side is willing to put in will likely say a lot about how they view the stakes in the race. What Will It Mean For Walker? Democrats are still bullish about the possibility of recalling Walker in 2012. But the appetite for a potential recall of Walker will likely hinge on how the state Senate recalls turn out. There's an inherent risk of overreach in recall efforts. Only five Wisconsin legislators have ever been recalled before, and usually for personal reasons, not policy differences. Recalling a governor -- anywhere -- is also very rare, and Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate recently acknowledged that if Walker survives a recall attempt, he would be in solid position to win reelection in 2012.
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