How does it work?
Under state law, the governor must be in office for at least one year before a recall drive can be initiated. That's why this is happening now, as opposed to earlier this year, when the uproar against the GOP's measure to curb collective bargaining for public employees began. Organizers will have to collect 540,208 signatures in 60 days. That amounts to 1/4 of the 2,160,832 votes cast in the governor's race in November of 2010.
The number of signatures required is no small feat for Democrats and will take an immense investment of coordination and volunteer support. Republicans will watching for even the slightest infractions: the state Republican Party has already launched a website that will seek to highlight any fraud.
Also keep in mind that Democrats simultaneously have launched a new wave of legislative recalls along with the Walter effort,
targeting four more Republican state senators.
What are the odds of a recall election?
Both sides are certainly taking the threat of a recall campaign seriously, and that's a sign that there is a legitimate chance it may happen. Walker ran a television ad
on Monday, in advance of the recall effort's kickoff, a serious preemptive move.
"I think the first person who would tell you that it's doable is the governor," said veteran Wisconsin Democratic strategist Evan Zeppos
. "Why else would he have dropped $300,000 on a TV buy this week?"
University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist Charles Franklin
said Democrats' success in triggering recalls of state lawmakers over the summer is a harbinger of success this time around.
"In those Senate recalls, most of the Senate seats needed 15-17,000 signatures for a recall, but in most of them, they turned in around 20 or more than 20,000," Franklin said. "So if you think about it that way, there are 33 Senate districts in the state. If they are getting 20,000 plus in each of them for the Senate recalls, then that would be 660,000. I think that is the most empirical way of looking at this, absent the obvious spin on both sides."
"I think they will be successful getting Governor Walker on the ballot," said Brian Sikma
, communications director for the conservative investigative watchdog group Media Trackers.
An October survey conducted for an in-state conservative think tank indicated that Wisconsinites are split almost evenly over Walker's recall, with 47 percent indicating they are in favor while 49 percent indicated they are opposed. So, as in the summer, the state is very divided.
"There is a sense of being dispirited on the part of activists," said Sikma. "On the part of the broader public ... I think there is less and less receptivity to a recall election."
Who would run against Walker?
There is no clear frontrunner. The one potential challenger Democrats would really get excited about -- former Sen. Russ Feingold
-- has said he is not running. Former Rep. Dave Obey
is one possibility, as is former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk
. For his own part, Obey has floated the possibility
of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett
(who ran against Walker in 2010), or even retiring Sen. Herb Kohl
, even though Kohl's office says he has no intention to run. The short answer is there is no clear option at this point.
"The names you are hearing are largely the usual suspects," said Franklin.
If a recall election is triggered, when will it happen?
The precise date is still unclear but it will be much earlier than the November general election, and likely sometime in the spring. After the 60-day signature collection period, the state has 31 days to certify the petitions. Given the potential for court challenges, that 31-day clock may run into overtime. That's what happened over the summer.
Once the state Government Accountability Board finds that there are a sufficient number of valid signatures, an election is ordered within six weeks. But here's another possibility for delay: If there is a primary, it will happen at the six week mark, and the final election will be held four weeks after that. In the summer recalls, Republicans ran fake Democrats to trigger Democratic primaries. That could happen again this time. Or, there could be a real, contested Democratic primary.
What other races would it affect?
An active recall campaign would have an impact on the state's open seat U.S. Senate race. For starters, given what is shaping up to be a nasty, competitive Republican primary, there will be pressure on the candidates to validate their credentials as party loyalists by participating in the recall effort. And depending on how the recall turns out, it could affect the general election as well.
It won't be difficult to link Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin
to the recall efforts, given that she represents Dane County, home of the liberal stronghold of Madison and a likely hotbed of recall activism. If the recall drive is successful, she can wear the victory with pride, whereas if it falls flat, count on Republicans tying her to another expensive effort to focus on recalling politicians and not creating jobs.
There will be an impact on the presidential race, too. Labor and its allies poured millions of dollars into the state Senate recall campaign that ultimately fell short of the intended goal: giving Democrats control of the state Senate. On the other hand, in Ohio, labor struck back with a decisive win earlier this month, albeit one that cost millions of dollars. But labor has a presidential race to worry about next year, and every dollar spent on the recall is one not spent helping President Obama
. For all these reasons, labor and its allies have some big decisions to make.