The Wisconsin Recall Election Has Gone Completely Insane And Off-Message

Scott Walker Tom Barrett

Photo: AP

Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus was on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday, where he put forth his argument of why Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker looks likely to withstand the recall effort.”Scott Walker is talking about his record, he’s talking about the fact that his reforms are working, that people are getting back to work, that businesses are coming in,” Priebus said. 

That would be great if it were true.

In the past month of campaigning against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, both Walker and Barrett have veered far away from the original recall debate, over what the Democrats charge was Walker’s overreaching attack on organised labour. 

Instead, dead babies, “deer czars” and corruption charges have taken over the campaigns. 

Walker has shied away from his unmistakably awful jobs record, except to make up his own jobs numbers that conflict with the government’s official record. 

The Walker ad that has made the rounds most in the last week of the campaign has featured a dead baby, hitting Barrett on the problem of violent crime in Milwaukee during his tenure as mayor. 

Barrett has charged Walker’s attacks as “Willie Horton stuff, referring to the 1988 presidential campaign. Barrett told the governor in a recent debate that he “should be ashamed” of the ad. 

“The campaigns have gotten quite personal. That’s not unusual, however,” said David Schecter, the chair of the political science department at California State University Fresno who has written extensively about the nation’s other two recall elections — in North Dakota in 1921 and in California in 2003. “It’s really in Scott Walker’s interest to drive up Barrett’s negative numbers,” Schecter said. “While Wisconsin voters are familiar with Barrett, what the Walker camp is trying to do is just remind them that, ‘Hey, I might be a controversial governor, but this guy could be worse.”

“It’s very important to him to build up any negative sentiment about Barrett,” Schecter added.

Meanwhile, on the other side, Barrett is throwing pretty much everything at the wall at Walker to see if it sticks. Schecter said this is a more conventional strategy for a recall challenger, but consider:

  • Barrett has charged Walker with hiring a “deer czar,” claiming that Walker wants to “privatize state lands” and “sell our deer to the highest bidder.” It’s an appeal to the state’s 600,000 deer hunters on which Politifact promptly slapped Pants-on-Fire Politifact ruling.
  • He put out an ad which falsely hit on Walker’s record with equal pay for women.
  • Barrett’s most effective tactic has nothing to do with jobs or organised labour, but with the corruption investigation against Walker that has been dubbed the “John Doe” investigation. At least one internal poll has shown it has made inroads with voters, but Walker has shot back by denying he’s a target of investigation and claiming it a distraction. 

In doing so, he pretty much made the point: This recall campaign has gone way off topic.

“The recall was about our reforms,” Walker said this weekend. “Our opponents don’t want to talk about them. Then they shifted to jobs. … Now they want to switch to something else desperately, but there’s absolutely no truth to that whatsoever.”

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