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Wednesday, May 09, 2012

WI Recall Primary Shows Dems with Advantage, But No Room for Complacency

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barret wins the recall primary
One of the great joys of following election night on Twitter is watching low-information voters grab onto incomplete sets of data and run wild with them. It's not unusual to see a post declaring a candidate is "killing!" with only three or four percent of the vote in. It really is pretty funny to see.

Following the Wisconsin recall primary last night, I wasn't disappointed -- my favorite election night dumbness ran rampant. For the early part of the night, Gov. Walker had more votes than the entire Democratic field combined. Not extremely surprising, since small rural districts would get their numbers in faster and those districts would be more conservative on average. In the end, Walker did not beat the combined total of his Democratic rivals -- total 670,278 dems to 626,538 Walker -- but I checked before writing this and the "Walker's beating the combined dems!" tweets are still circulating among the wingnuts. As always, the right finds comforting untruths preferable to liberal reality -- and bothering to check your facts just leads to disappointment. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett took the night, but the big news on the right were old, stale, and no longer accurate numbers showing Walker "killing."

That said, the numbers as they are don't tell us a lot. If Walker had beaten the combined dems, then you'd have something to talk about. But the Republican primary was a race between the governor and an old-style La Follette/Roosevelt Republican who stood no chance at all (although he did slaughter the GOP's fake dem, 19,920 to 4,842), so who knows how representative that number will be of the final numbers in the Big Game. We can swap around protest candidate numbers if you like, but I don't think they make much difference -- who votes for those candidates? Does the confuse-the-voter tactic work or do voters cross party lines to cast mischief votes? Probably a little of both, making it impossible to tell where the votes would've gone if the protest candidates hadn't been in the race. Better to leave those numbers where they are and call it close enough.

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That said, I think that GOP probably ran a fairly serious get out the vote effort for the primary. If Walker had beaten the combined dem numbers, he'd really have something to talk about going forward and I'm pretty sure that's what he was shooting for. Those low info Twitter righties wouldn't have thought to look at those numbers on their own. Someone was pointing it out to them.

As it is, the final tally is probably a moral victory for Walker -- he came fairly close to embarrassing the Democrats (but not close enough to crow about) and avoided being swamped by them at the same time. This is still a very serious and competitive race, although Democrats are probably feeling a fraction more comfortable than the governor's team right now.

And it doesn't look like ad money is going to make much difference. Falk outspent Barrett and Walker outspent everybody. Yet the final numbers are almost the exact opposite of what you'd expect. People's minds are made up here and it's all about getting people to the polls.

And it's there that Walker has good reason to worry. Turnout in the primary was big. AP reports that "Turnout for the recall primary election broke 30 percent, the highest for a partisan primary in Wisconsin in 60 years." But it could be bigger -- much bigger.

See, we know how many voters there are out there wanting to see Walker out of office -- and it's a lot more than voted in the primary last night.

John Nichols, The Nation, Jan. 17 2012:

Petitions with the names of 1 million Wisconsinites were submitted to state elections officials today, in a move that will jump-start the process of removing the nation’s most notorious antilabor governor from office.

A total of 540,208 valid signatures are required to recall Scott Walker, the Republican governor, who was elected in 2010. On Tuesday afternoon, the United Wisconsin movement that was organized to recall and remove the governor submitted almost twice that number.

The problem is that it's a lot easier to get someone to sign a petition when you show up at their house than it is to get someone to leave their house and go vote. That said, the general always has higher turnout than the primary, so we'll see more petition signers at the polls.

And we'll also see more Walker voters. The Republican primary, though not entirely uncontested, was a mostly empty vote of support for the governor. Maybe he stretched the possible primary turnout to the limit and maybe he didn't (I'm convinced he did), but we can probably also count on his vote total increasing. Vote totals now are about 52% dem, 48% Walker -- so it's pretty close.

Both sides have a fight on their hands. It's my opinion that Walker's is more uphill right now and he only has four weeks to close that gap. It's going to get ugly, because Walker has absolutely nothing positive to run on. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka puts it very well; "[Walker] is permanently unpopular because he took on and he attacked workers rather than creating jobs."

I'm feeling pretty good about Barrett's chances -- but not good enough to sit on my butt and wait. I'll be back out there knocking on doors. This is still a fight we could lose.

-Wisco


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