The feeling in Wisconsin is one of tense excitement. Lawns are staked with dueling blue “I Stand With Walker” and “Recall Walker” signs, cars are plastered with political bumper stickers, and Facebook feeds are jammed with messages urging people to vote.
On Tuesday, Wisconsin will decide the fate of the polarizing Governor Scott Walker, a Republican Party rock star and symbol of tough, take-no-prisoners conservatism who has the dubious distinction of being the third U.S. governor ever to face recall.
Walker controversially revoked most collective bargaining rights last year, provoking tens of thousands of people to turn out and protest. Now the Dairy State has become a litmus test: how far can conservatives go — weakening unions and slashing funding for social programs — before the population rebels?
Democrats worry Republicans will be emboldened if the effort fails, and Republicans are afraid of the strong rebuke a successful recall would bring. Mitt Romney and Barrack Obama are watching the recall closely, hoping to capitalize on it to gain early momentum in the race for the White House.
Although Wisconsin has not backed a Republican in a presidential election since Ronald Reagan in 1984, the state is increasingly purple and winning there could be the key to victory in November. For their part, Wisconsinites are very invested in the race. The primary had an astoundingly high turnout, and people will likely vote in higher numbers in the recall election than they did in the 2010 general election, when Walker became governor.
The state’s election agency predicts around 3 million people, or 60% to 65% of the voting age population, will cast ballots. Most residents seem to have already made up their mind, and the candidates’ fate rests on who can better galvanize their supporters to actually turn out to the polls. Most recent numbers show Walker slightly leading Barrett and outspending him $31 million to $4.2 million. However, Democrats received a boost recently when Bill Clinton stepped up to help motivate supporters and raise funds for Barrett. The former president, known for his campaigning savvy, stumped for the candidate in Milwaukee on Friday. He reminded the cheering crowd of the significance of the election, saying, "Now they look at Wisconsin and they see America's battleground.”
Clinton proceeded to urge Dems not to fall for “divide and conquer” tactics, but to band together and fight. Democrats should be heartened: Clinton probably wouldn’t spend the effort if he didn’t think Barrett had a chance of winning; Barrett’s internal polls might have convinced Clinton that the race was winnable. If nothing else, Democrats are desperate for a close race, and they’ve likely achieved that.
Republicans responded with their own star, South Carolina Governor and GOP darling Nikki Haley. She echoed Clinton’s sentiments on the importance of the race to a crowd in Sussex, Wis., saying, "All eyes across the country are on Wisconsin."
Haley said Walker had done wonders for Wisconsin’s economy, and urged listeners to continue to support the embattled governor.
Come what may, Wisconsin needs to heal. Like many residents, I’m sick of the vitriol. There are countless stories of friends and even family members who no longer talk to each other after fighting over Walker’s policies, Midwestern politeness be damned. Teachers especially feel betrayed by those who support the governor, and the whole state feels bitterly divided. Although Walker was elected with 52% of the vote, he often acts like it was 100% — frustrating supporters and opponents alike. An elected official should be accountable to everyone he serves, not just those who elected him. Tuesday's winner must focus on rebuilding, starting by ensuring everyone feels they have a seat at the table.