Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has expanded his lead over Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to seven percentage points with just under a week to go until voters decide whether to recall their state executive.
According to a new Marquette Law School poll, Walker attracts 52 percent of the support from likely voters to Barrett’s 45 percent. A Marquette poll taken earlier this month found Walker leading by six points.
Notably, the Republican Walker appears to be more popular than his Democratic opponent: 51 percent view the governor favorably while 46 percent dislike him. Barrett’s numbers are under water: 41 percent have a favorable opinion of him while 46 percent do not. Walker’s job approval rating is about the same as his favorability score. But voters are split on whether they like what he has done while in office, with 39 percent answering positively to 38 percent negatively. Meanwhile, 21 percent say they like what he has done, but “not how he has done it.”
Wisconsin voters generally have an optimistic view about their state: 52 percent say it is moving in the right direction, while 44 percent say things are on the wrong track.
“Walker is invariably at or above 50 percent, which is basically the name of the game,” says Republican Governors Association Communications Director Mike Schrimpf, who predicts the race will fall within five points -- the margin by which Walker beat Barrett in 2010. The RGA has spent $8 million to defend Walker. The group spent around $5 million two years ago.
Voters will cast their ballots on Tuesday in a special election prompted by protests over Walker’s law limiting collective bargaining rights for public workers. (Petitioners collected over 1 million signatures to mandate the recall.) On a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said he is “very confident” Walker will win. If the Republican prevails, “Obama is going to have a very tough rough road ahead in the fall,” Priebus predicted.
Priebus, who served as the Wisconsin GOP chair before taking the helm of the RNC, said Republicans have reached out to 2.5 million voters in the state and have 20 field offices operating, an infrastructure he believes will boost the party in the fall. He also said that Wisconsin would play an integral role in the presidential race: “Certainly if Wisconsin goes red, it’s lights out for Barack Obama.”
Priebus’s Democratic counterpart, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, tried to manage expectations over the weekend. The DNC chairwoman labeled the recall “the first national election” of the year, but then insisted that there wouldn’t be any “repercussions” if Democrats lost.
“I think it’ll be, at the end of the day, a Wisconsin-based election, and like I said, across the rest of the country and including in Wisconsin, President Obama is ahead,” she said in an interview for C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” that aired Sunday morning. Wasserman Schultz traveled to the Badger State on Wednesday. According to the Marquette Poll, Obama leads Romney 51 percent to 43 percent. Obama won the state in 2008 by 14 points.
Wasserman Schultz emailed the Democratic donor base asking for financial support for the recall. According to a report in the Washington Post, the DNC has put $1.4 million into Wisconsin this election cycle -- $800,000 of that since November.
Priebus suggested that the Obama re-election team would take the hit if Barrett lost, saying Wasserman Schultz’s visit to Wisconsin shows “that [Obama for America] and DNC are all in.”
“So we’re looking forward to seeing what their ‘top-notch’ ground game is going to accomplish on Tuesday and what that’s going to mean for November,” said Priebus.
Martin O’Malley, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, will visit the state on Thursday to campaign with Barrett in Milwaukee and Madison. Last week the DGA poured an additional $1 million into this race, bringing its total financial contribution to $3 million.
Democrats laud the work of the DGA and the state party committee, but some have expressed disappointment in the White House and Obama’s re-election campaign for not being more active. "The White House needs to move beyond being afraid of its own shadow,” said one Democratic strategist working for the anti-Walker effort. Democratic polls show the race within the margin of error.
“The Romney campaign has already been foaming at the mouth to pounce if Walker survives. If that isn't motivation enough for the White House to start doing everything it can to help defeat Scott Walker, it's hard to know what is,” said the strategist, who noted that radio ads and automated calls from Obama to voters who supported him in 2008 would help in the final stretch of the recall effort. "It won't go unnoticed by labor the extent to which the White House ultimately decides to fight or not fight for working people the final critical days in Wisconsin."
If Barrett loses, Democrats will likely blame the influence of outside groups and the fact that Walker came into the race with an overwhelming financial advantage. Some Republican analysts argue that if Walker loses, it will not bode well for other politicians trying to implement similar reforms and policies on which they campaigned.
Caitlin Huey-Burns is a reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Caitlin Huey-Burns, RealClearPolitics, May 30, 2012