Recall Election

As Recall Election Approaches, Obama Avoids Wisconsin

As national Democrats keep their distance, Gov. Scott Walker could survive to finish his term, reports Ben Jacobs.

Darren Hauck, Reuters / Landov

While organized labor faces off against the GOP over the recall of Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who emerged as national lightning rod last year when he signed a law that eliminated collective bargaining for most public employees in the state, the Obama campaign and the national Democratic Party have shied away from the race.

The DNC is sending chairperson Debbie Wasserman-Schultz to hold one fundraiser for Barrett, but has yet to cut a check to his campaign and issued its first fundraising appeal Wednesday—less than two weeks before the election. President Obama, who won the state by 14 points in 2008, has yet to visit the Badger State or otherwise spend much political capital on Barrett’s behalf.

Obama “came out with a supporting statement in support of Mayor Barrett’s nomination” the night he won the primary, an Obama campaign official told the Beast. “Our campaign has a lot of volunteers who cross over with Barrett supporters and we’re helping to make sure that those volunteers know what's at stake and make sure they have the information to register, when and where to cast their votes.” While those efforts help build up Obama’s ground game for November, polls show Walker has opened up a 5 to 7 point lead ahead of the June 5 recall election, which also includes the lieutenant governor and four state senators.

“Barrett has not had much outside help at all,” a spokesman for his campaign told Politico this week. Both candidates have shifted the focus of their contest away from the union issues that initially triggered it, in part because Barrett prevailed over the candidate preferred by labor in the primary last month. Without the labor issue taking center stage, the recall itself—the first in state history for a governor—has triggered a backlash among Republicans and some other voters infuriated the special election is taking place in the first place.

“Even if you disagree with Walker's policies, does that justify cutting short his term as governor? And if so, where does such logic lead? To more recall elections? More turmoil?” asked The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in an editorial this past weekend endorsing Walker.

Even as Republicans have been energized by the push to keep Walker in office through the end of his term, Democratic efforts to back Barrett—who lost to Walker in 2010 and joined the primary field for a rematch this year after stronger prospective candidates like former Senator Russ Feingold, former Congressman David Obey and State Senator Jon Erpenbach decided not to run—have splintered. His campaign, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, Obama for America, the AFL-CIO, Greater Wisconsin, and We Are Wisconsin are all working separately to oust Walker, and while the groups have for the most part coordinated their in-state operations, the unwieldy coalition has limited Barrett’s appeal to the national network of progressive donors.

Funds have flowed in from major national Republican donors, including the Koch Brothers, Harold Simmons, and Bob Perry. The Republican National Committee has also opened up its coffers, with RNC Chair Reince Priebus announcing that his committee is “all in,” and a staffer telling the Beast they’ve committed “hundreds of thousands of dollars.” The most recent financial reports, filed May 1, show Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a Democrat, has raised $800,000, compared to $25 million for Walker, who’s benefitted from a loophole in the Wisconsin campaign finance law that allows unlimited contributions to elected officials facing recall. (Both campaigns have benefited from independent expenditures by outside groups, making Barrett’s cash disadvantage smaller than it appears.)

One labor official told the Beast that despite the funding gap, unions were optimistic about efforts on the ground. “We’re just hoping to get our people talking to other people."