Democrats and unions began urgent damage-control efforts Monday in an effort to deflate Gov. Scott Walker’s (R-Wis.) expected win in Tuesday’s recall election.
Despite expressions of confidence, Walker’s adversaries spent the eve of the vote trying to salvage cold comfort as polls showed their man — Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) — heading for defeat.
They pointed, for example, to the fact that Democrats appear set to regain control of the state Senate, which could reduce Walker’s effectiveness as governor. But citing a probable down-ballot victory emphasized the fact that the left’s main goal seems out of reach.
Intrade, the political market service, put Walker’s chances of winning at 93 percent.
Walker has led in all recent independent polls, including a survey from Democrat-affiliated Public Policy Polling released Monday that had him up 50 percent to 47 over Barrett. The race has been highly emotional and hard-fought and has garnered national attention for months.
One union official involved in the race argued that even if Walker won on Tuesday, he would be so wounded from the recall that he will be rendered ineffective for the remainder of his term.
“[Walker] has two outcomes for tomorrow, which is be removed from office or survive. Neither is a great victory for him,” said the official, who predicted a Barrett victory. “He is going to come out of this thing battered even if he wins. … If it’s a Democratic state Senate, that weakens him even more.”
Four Republican-held state Senate seats are up for grabs on Tuesday, with Democrats needing to win only one to take control of the chamber and secure a check against Walker’s agenda.
Democrats say they’ve closed the gap with Walker since they achieved parity with him on the airwaves in the last two weeks of the race, but a number have pointed out that a loophole in campaign finance law allowed him to raise unlimited donations while Barrett had hard caps on what he could raise. That allowed Walker to raise and spend nearly $30 million, while Barrett has only spent about $3 million.
Republicans and their allies have spent about $17 million on Walker’s behalf, while unions and Democrats have spent approximately $15 million, according to figures calculated by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy campaign’s Mike McCabe, who predicted that total spending will top $75 million by the time all the numbers are crunched.
Obama tweeted his support for Barrett Monday night, but has not stumped for the Milwaukee mayor even though he was just across the border in Minnesota on Friday, a sign he didn’t want to closely associate himself with a losing cause. On the other side, rising Republican stars including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley made it a point to come to Wisconsin.
One top Democratic consultant close to the White House said going to Wisconsin would have been a risky venture for Obama.
“If we go and [Barrett] loses, the headlines are ‘Obama has lost his magic,’ and that’s another battle we’d have going into an election,” the consultant said. “That would be problematic.”
Ed Garvey, a longtime Democratic activist and the party’s nominee for Wisconsin governor in 1998, criticized the White House for avoiding the race.
“People are not happy with Obama and [Vice President] Biden for not coming out here, that’s for sure,” he said. “I’ve never seen a more risk-averse candidate or officeholder than Barack ObamaBarack ObamaCelebrity chef: Trump inauguration copied my cake for Obama Five takeaways from Trump's inauguration Michael Reagan: Trump's fighting words rattle Washington MORE.”
Democratic National Committee head Debbie Wasserman Schultz defended the national party’s involvement in the race on Monday.
“There has been a significant amount of resources put in from the Democratic Party and from our considerable ground operation through the full engagement and activity of the Obama for America staff and volunteers on the ground,” the Florida Democrat said on MSNBC before pointing out Walker’s huge cash advantage.
Wisconsin Democratic Party spokesman Graeme Zielinski pointed out that Obama’s field operation had been working hard for Barrett. The Democratic Governors Association has also spent heavily in the race.
Zielinski predicted a win, pointing out that the 40,000 volunteers working for Barrett represent twice the number who helped the party last time. But he said if Walker does prevail, Democrats will remain engaged in the fall.
“It’s still a conversation about the future of the middle class,” he said. “You have a huge organization built from this that will help us in the fall.”
Barrett’s running mate, current state firefighters union head Mahlon Mitchell (D), downplayed the significance of Obama’s decision not to visit, pointing out that former President Clinton came in last Friday. He also sought to downplay the national implications of the race.
“This fight has never been about anybody other than the citizens of this state,” he told reporters on Monday.
But in a sign that the recall fight has not helped Democrats’ chances in the fall, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina moved Wisconsin into the “toss-up” category on Electoral College maps for the first time on Monday in a campaign video that sought to assure supporters they would prevail in the fall.
Obama’s campaign downplayed the change, and ignored a question on why Obama hadn’t campaigned with Barrett.
“The last public polling had President Obama up 8 [points] in Wisconsin, but we have always anticipated a close race and don’t take anything for granted,” said an Obama campaign official.
— Kevin Bogardus and Amie Parnes contributed to this report.