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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

New Poll has Wisconsin Recall Effort at Slight Disadvantage

Recall supporters in Wisconsin state capitol rotunda
Wisconsin is generally considered a swing state, despite the fact that it only seems to swing one way. In presidential races, it's usually a close race between the Democrat and the Republican, but when election day comes, the Democrat wins. In fact, the last time a Republican won the state was during the Reagan landslide against Walter Mondale. Wisconsin always seems tantalizingly within the grasp of the GOP candidate, before it slips away. Maybe Republican strategists have a different nickname for the Badger state -- perhaps one involving the word "heartbreak." Applying the "red/blue" measurement the media likes to use, Wisconsin is a purple state. But generally a bluish purple.

A new Marquette Law School poll shows a race shaping up to be like most other years -- the Democrat leads, but not yet with a majority.

The poll only measured an Obama/Romney race, which -- despite Mitt's recent polling decline -- still seems the most likely. If that race were held today, 48% would vote for Obama, while 40% would vote for Romney. Eight points is a decent lead and much better than the national average, which puts the president just 1.9% ahead -- a squeaker. But since Obama hasn't cracked 50% here, Team Mittens has to think there's some ground to be taken. It's not neck and neck now -- but it could be.

On the recall front, the situation is different. The best number for dems comes from a rematch with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett -- the opponent Gov. Scott Walker eventually beat in 2010. Walker wins that 50%-44%. This may seem like good news for Walker, until you consider that he's already running a campaign to keep his office. He's been running ads statewide, trying to convince everyone he's just the best governor ever, and the best he can do is a six-point lead over a man who not only isn't running any ads at all, but isn't even a candidate yet. He hasn't officially declared. Scooter's been trying his little heart out and Barrett's within six without even raising a finger -- and that's within the poll's margin for error. In fact, of all the possible Democratic contenders in the poll, only one has numbers below the margin for error.


"The old line ‘you don’t beat somebody with nobody’ is true. Other polls have asked only if Governor Walker should be recalled and have found closer races," says Professor Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll and Wisconsin journalists' political go-to wonk. "But in the end, some specific Democrat will face Governor Walker. This poll is the first of the year to match specific potential Democratic challengers against the governor. The results show a competitive race but one in which Governor Walker starts with an advantage."

But when you consider his other advantages -- the previously mentioned campaign head start, incumbency, fundraising, etc. -- that polling advantage doesn't really add up to much. My take here is that it shows that Walker is both vulnerable and eminently beatable.

And the thing is, you really have to view these races independently of each other. The recall and the presidential won't happen on the same day. That means that presidential coattail effects -- or anti-coattail effects -- won't really apply. It might be more helpful to think of the presidential election and the gubernatorial recall as two separate election cycles -- one right after the other.

But that doesn't mean that one can't be predictive or instructive of the other. The recall will almost certainly happen first. If Walker wins, his campaign machine keeps churning until the presidential election. If the democrat wins, the same will happen. The groundwork being laid by the recall will have a lot to do with who wins the state in the presidential. Two separate cycles, but one feeds the next. Reverse coattails, where the race for lesser office helps the candidate for the higher one.

Publicly, Walker and Republicans will take these numbers and do a media tour with them. Privately though, they've got to be worried. If this is what weeks of TV and radio ads gets them, it may not be enough. And one thing the poll didn't measure is enthusiasm -- one million signatures say recall supporters have that on their side.

Wisconsin the swing state may be swinging away from its own governor.


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