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Wisconsin recall: Scott Walker enters final week with edge

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A week from today, Wisconsin voters will decide whether to recall Gov. Scott Walker (R) or not, an outcome that remains possible if not likely, according to sources closely following the race.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who is facing a recall election, and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D), left, talk before the start of a debate in Milwaukee on May 25.

Many Democrats — led by organized labor — have cast the Wisconsin contest as a referendum on what they believe to be a drastic overreach of power by a Republican elected governor in 2010.

But there have been cracks within the Democratic coalition from the start. Some have raised questions about the strategic smarts of staging a recall election almost five months to the day from when President Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney will slug it out in the Badger State.

Others — mostly from Wisconsin — have grumbled that the White House and the Democratic National Committee remain insufficiently committed, financially, to recalling Walker.

Republicans, by contrast, have been remarkably unified, with all elements of the conservative coalition — from Walker to outside groups backing him to the party apparatus — working in coordination to try to stave off recall. The Republican Governors Association, for example, has already dumped $8 million into Wisconsin, well more than the $5 million the RGA spent in 2010 to help Walker get elected.

Polling is coming fast and furious, with both sides attempting to keep their supporters engaged and enthusiastic. While Democrats have released a slew of internal polling over the last 10 days, the data — when taken together — still reflects what most informed sources on the ground believe: Walker has a narrow but steady lead.

Here’s a look at the polling trend lines in the race since January of this year, courtesy of Huffington Post’s Pollster.com:

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Pollster.com gives Walker a four-pont edge; that’s slightly smaller than the Real Clear Politics averages in the race — with Walker averaging 50.6 percent and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) averaging 44.2 percent.

Democrats caution, rightly, not to put too much stock in any of the polling due to the uniqueness of the circumstances; Wisconsin has never had a gubernatorial recall election before and therefore predicting turnout in a poll is even more difficult than it is is a more traditional contest.

Democrats also believe that if they can keep Walker’s margin to low single-digits heading into the vote next Tuesday they can win it on the ground thanks to their superior organizational efforts — much of which is being spearheaded by labor unions. As evidence of their organizational edge, Democrats note that early voting is running higher than expected — a good sign for them, they believe.

While Democrats continue to insist that the race remains a toss-up, Republicans are privately growing more and more confident — insisting that they have shown the incumbent with a solid single-digit lead in internal polling for some time.

Republican strategists credit the steadying of Walker’s edge to effective attacks of Barrett’s economic stewardship of Milwaukee — particularly when contrasted with the overall economic health of the state. (Wisconsin’s unemployment rate in April was 6.7 percent, more than a point below the national average and down from almost 8 percent when Walker took office.)

In the final week of the campaign, Democrats are trying to focus the discussion on Walker’s ethics with a particular emphasis on the “John Doe” investigation that deals with Walker’s time spent as Milwaukee County executive.

Democrats believe closing on Walker’s ethics is their strongest possible strategy. Republicans counter that voters care about the economy and jobs first, second and third, and that the ethics attacks aren’t catching on.

It’s hard to imagine the stakes being any higher. For Walker, his career is on the line. For Barrett, who lost to Walker in 2010, the same is true, since he won’t ever get as good a chance as this one to be elected governor. For both national parties, the race is being cast as a leading indicator of which way this swing state leans heading into the fall. And for organized labor, this is the race that will either prove they remain a potent force to be feared/loved, or raise fundamental questions about just what they can deliver going forward.

All eyes are on Wisconsin for the next seven days. And for good reason.

Texas votes: Republican voters in Texas will take the first step toward picking their next senator today, and it could effectively be the final step as well.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is expected to finish first in today’s primary for retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s (R-Texas) seat, but the key number for him is 50 percent; that’s the percentage of the vote he needs to avoid a July runoff — a race which could be considerably more difficult than the crowded open primary.

The most likely candidate to force a runoff would appear to be former state solicitor general Ted Cruz, who has lots of tea party backing, but former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert is also in the mix.

Especially if Cruz makes the runoff, the race could take on significant importance in the tea party community, which could help the candidate overcome a steep financial disadvantage. So far, Dewhurst has raised the most money and spent nearly $10 million of his own money on the race.

One thing is clear though: Whoever wins the Republican nomination is going to be the next senator from Texas, barring scandal. Democrats initially talked a big game about retired general Ricardo Sanchez, but he fizzled early and dropped out, and Democrats didn’t land a top-tier recruit to replace him.

Downballot, Reps. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), Ralph Hall (R-Texas) and Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) all face primary opposition, with Reyes looking the most vulnerable. The anti-incumbent Campaign for Primary Accountability has spent significant money against both Reyes ($150,000) and Hall ($167,000).

Romney moves to jobs message: Romney’s campaign this week will be focused on jobs — and, more specifically, Obama’s relationship with the business community.

The campaign seeks to cast the president as being hostile to job creators and having little experience creating jobs before he was president.

It will also take the opportunity to highlight the failure of Solyndra, a solar power company that went bankrupt despite half a billion dollars in federal support provided by the Obama Administration.

Barber punts on Pelosi support: Democratic Arizona special election candidate Ron Barber, who last week declined to say whether he would support President Obama before clarifying that he would, is now stopping short of supporting House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a potential speaker’s race.

“That’s a decision that’s way off in the future, and I wouldn’t know the answer to that question until we know who the candidates are for speaker,” he told Roll Call. “I think it’s important to make decisions like that, or any decision, based upon what’s in front of you and what the facts are. I don’t know who will be up for speaker in 2013, and I’ll reserve judgment on who I would vote for.”

At a debate last week, Barber didn’t offer a direct response when asked whether he’ll support Obama. After the media picked up on it, his campaign issued a statement saying he did indeed support the president.

Republicans actually used Pelosi more than Obama in 2010 as a campaign issue.

Fixbits:

Romney will officially clinch the GOP nomination tonight.

A new Gallup poll shows Romney leading Obama by 24 points among veterans.

Romney goes hawkish on Memorial Day.

Romney doesn’t repudiate Donald Trump’s return to birtherism.

Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles are working with a bipartisan group of senators and House members on a deal to avert a year-end financial crisis.

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) is going up with a new TV ad that plays up his bipartisan bona fides on issues like Wall Street reform and the STOCK Act.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) says he doesn’t plan to stump for the man who beat him in a primary, state Treasurer Richard Mourdock.

A new independent poll for the Albuquerque Journal shows Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and former congresswoman Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) way ahead in their respective Senate primaries.

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and his Senate primary opponent tussle over campaign finance allegations.

Meanwhile, Heinrich is going up with a radio ad in Navajo country that plays up his work on the Health Care Improvement Act and legislation that helps American Indians secure home loans.

Independent Maine Senate candidate Angus King gave to both Obama’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee this year — proof, Republicans say, that he will caucus with Democrats if he joins the Senate.

The Campaign for Primary Accountability just pent its first money against Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) in his primary.

Must-reads:

Campaigns mine online data to target voters” — Beth Fouhy, AP

Obama Finds Campaigning Rules Clock” — Peter Baker, New York Times

Romney’s Mormon faith in spotlight” — Edward-Isaac Dovere, Politico

Texas-style redistricting vexes voters, puts map boundaries in perpetual motion” — Paul Kane, Washington Post

Democratic leaders back Obama’s Bain strategy vs. Romney, acknowledge risks” — Amy Gardner and Philip Rucker, Washington Post

Flip-flopping: In politics, a mind can be a terrible thing to change” — Marc Fisher, Washington Post

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