POLITICS -- June 4, 2012 at 1:48 PM EDT
Wisconsin Recall - High Stakes Battle for Major Party Groups
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker campaigned with South Carolina GOP Gov. Nikki Haley in Sussex June 1. Photo by: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Milwaukee's Mitchell Airport has been the place to be for politico-spotting over the past week. As Wisconsin voters prepare to head to the polls Tuesday to vote in the contentious recall election of their embattled Republican Gov. Scott Walker, high-profile national political figures have been arriving almost nonstop in an effort to make a late push for the candidates.
Over $60 million has been spent in Wisconsin so far with contributions and independent expenditures from labor groups and outside organizations such as Americans for Prosperity, funded by the Koch Brothers, on the right, and Planned Parenthood on the left. And the state has seen visits from national figures in both parties, including former President Bill Clinton and Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey.
In a contest that has been rolling at a low boil since last winter, when petitioners gathered signatures to induce the recall election, there are very few swing votes left for the candidates, Walker and Democratic challenger Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, to appeal to. The latest polling in the contest by Marquette University shows only 2 percent of voters remain undecided.
So with the voters largely calcified, what are these political heavyweights doing in Wisconsin?
"I think we have an electorate that has made up its mind earlier than normal which puts more of the onus on turnout and getting out the vote," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said on a conference call Wednesday. "Our job now is no different than it was when Abraham Lincoln said 'find every Whig and get him to the polls'."
Priebus went on to say Republicans have identified and contacted 2.5 million potential voters in the state over the past five months. Republican volunteers from as far away as California have been contacting Wisconsinites in an attempt to turn out voters for Walker.
The Democrats are taking advantage of the recall as an opportunity to conduct a "test run" of their massive grass-roots operation. Obama for America has been calling on its supporters around the country to remotely recruit Wisconsin volunteers.
"Elections like these are won on the ground," the DNC wrote in a recent blog post. "At doorsteps and over the phone, Wisconsin voters are hearing from Democratic Party and [Organizing for America] organizers and volunteers about why it's time for Walker to go." But the effort to mobilize local volunteers stretches far beyond the borders of Wisconsin. The group DC for Obama, which states its mission as re-electing President Barack Obama through "canvassing, visibility events, and promotion of local campaign activities," sent out an email to its members earlier this spring encouraging them to recruit Wisconsin volunteers to "knock on doors and make phone calls" in an effort to end the "slash and burn" reign of Gov. Walker.
"We have put our considerable grass-roots resources behind [Barrett]. All of the Obama for America and state party resources, our grass-roots network is fully engaged," Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz told CNN recently.
Republicans are not exactly sitting on their hands waiting for Tuesday's voting. Conjuring up the ever-frightening "big union bosses," American Majority Action, a GOP activist group, is encouraging its volunteers from across the country to donate to the Walker campaign or call Wisconsin voters, emphasizing "this battle is not about Wisconsin, it's about America."
The result of the tightly contested race, with outside money and influence playing such a substantial role, may prove fortuitous for the winning party this November. For Mr. Obama that could mean investing resources in more closely contested battleground states. (The last Republican to carry Wisconsin in a presidential race was Ronald Reagan - in 1984.) For Mitt Romney, a Walker win could be perceived as the sign of a Midwestern shift, pushing Wisconsin to the right and possibly carrying a major swing state like Iowa along with it.
Priebus, whose last job was running the Wisconsin Republican Party as it made major gains in 2010, laid out the stakes for the proxy war: "If Walker wins next Tuesday...Obama's going to have a much tougher road ahead in Wisconsin this fall."
Watch the NewsHour Monday night for Jeffrey Brown's report on the ideological debate playing out in Wisconsin.