David Schecter still doesn’t believe Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will prevail in today’s million-plus signature effort to recall him.Schecter is the chair of the political science department at California State University Fresno, where he has written extensively about the nation’s other two gubernatorial recall elections. In those two elections, a pattern has held — incumbents have been recalled. So, in Schecter’s eyes, Walker should lose to his Democratic challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
“I know this is against the current grain and some of the recent polling, but the rationale for that is that once the signature stage has occurred in the previous two recalls, that’s the ‘election before the election,'” Schecter said in a phone interview. “There has been enough turnout of individuals saying, ‘We want to take this person out of office,’ that Election Day simply becomes a rubber-stamping of the signature stage.”
That means that Walker is poised for a truly historic victory Tuesday night, if polls over the last few days and weeks are any indication. If Walker wins and staves off recall, he will be the first state governor to do so in U.S. history.
The other two governors who faced a recall — California Gov. grey Davis in 2003 and North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier in 1921 — both failed against their challengers. Frazier was recalled amid a depression in North Dakota’s agricultural sector by a narrow margin — 51 per cent to 49 per cent. Meanwhile, 55 per cent of Californians voted to recall Davis in 2003, later replacing him with Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.
<strong>WATCH: The Wisconsin Recall Election, Explained</strong>
A number of factors make Walker’s situation similar to the other two recalls. But the differences in incumbent support and party organisation have put Walker on the track to defeat Barrett.
First, the similarities. All three governors, Schecter notes, have been accused of using their office for personal gain. And all three governors have done something to make a lot of people angry and upset.
In Walker’s case, his push to curb collective bargaining rights for Wisconsin’s public-sector unions has been charged by Democrats and union activists as an overreaching attack on organised labour. The law cuts into many public employees’ benefits and collective bargaining rights, and limits their pay increases.
“There was a big Democratic uprising and outrage over some of the things that Scott Walker was doing,” said Jim Williams, a polling analyst at Public Policy Polling, which found Walker held a 3-point lead over Barrett in a poll released late Sunday night.
But Williams adds that much of the left’s outrage has died down since last year’s epic statehouse battles.
“If they had the ability to have a recall during the height of that outrage, it might have been easier to unseat Scott Walker,” he said. “But things have calmed down.”
The Democratic Party is partly to blame. The National Journal reported that Walker and his allies have outspent Barrett by a 3-to-1 margin on television ads, and the Republican Governors Association has poured in twice as much as its Democratic counterpart. Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus, a Wisconsin native, has made it a mission to make the effort a talking point on his television appearances.
Wisconsin is also the first test of the left’s ability to organise a recall effort, Schecter said; in both North Dakota and California, the right ousted a governor on the left.
While the right has provided Walker with overwhelming support, Democrats have failed to mobilize with the same enthusiasm that led to Walker’s recall in the first place. President Barack Obama has been notably absent from the Wisconsin fight, although he reaffirmed his endorsement of Barrett over the weekend. The Democratic National Committee made its first efforts to campaign in Wisconsin last week, sending in former President Bill Clinton to make an 11th-hour push on Friday.
“More people have come to the aid of Scott Walker than came to the aid of grey Davis or Lynn Frazier, who were seen as kind of ‘lepers’ in a way by the time the election rolled around,” Schecter said. “Walker, on the other hand, has been able to draw support from a wide swath of people across the country who have come to his defence.
“It’s a little bit of both things. It’s been Republican organizational strengths that have been important for propping up Walker in the last few weeks, and it has been Democratic malaise.”
That has put Barrett in a very different position than that of the two recall challengers before him. Davis, for example, made debate challenge after debate challenge to Schwarzenegger, and even proposed a debate on Larry King Live. Barrett, on the other hand, is the one playing defence, and has resorted to attacking Walker on deer-hunting privatization to try to make up ground in the final days leading up to the election.
Ultimately, the Wisconsin recall election will come down to turnout, as is the case with most polarised elections that tend to bring out relatively few undecided voters. So far, though, it looks like Walker will comfortably remain in office — and Schecter thinks Democrats might have missed their opportunity.
“There has been sort of a ‘sitting back on their heels’ feeling from the signature stage,” Schecter said of Democrats. “I think they maybe took some things for granted.”
MORE ON THE WISCONSIN RECALL:
• Democrats are already making excuses why they’ll fail to recall Walker >>
• The recall campaign has gotten completely insane and off-message >>
• The polls don’t look good for Tom Barrett >>
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