Wisconsin recall slipping away from Democrats

at 03:14 PM ET, 05/18/2012

Just two and a half weeks remain in the recall of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), and momentum seems to be firmly on the GOP’s side.


Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks to the Illinois Chamber of Commerce in this April 17, 2012 file photo taken in Springfield, Ill. (Seth Perlman — Associated Press)

All three polls out this week show Walker leading Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) by between 5 percent and 9 percent. Perhaps more illustrative, though, are the candidate’s personal favorability and approval numbers.

Despite all the attempts by Democrats and organized labor to turn him into the bogeyman, Walker’s job approval and favorable rating both remain in positive territory, at right around 50 percent.

Barrett, meanwhile, has no such luxury. The latest Marquette University Law School poll of this race showed his favorable rating at just 37 percent, compared to 45 percent who view him unfavorably.

As of late March, the same pollster showed Barrett, the 2010 Democratic nominee against Walker, was viewed favorably by 34 percent and unfavorably by just 27 percent.

That’s a massive shift, with his unfavorable rating jumping 18 points in just seven weeks. It reflects both the difficult primary that he just emerged from (in which labor backed his opponent) and Republicans’ sustained early effort to define him.

The question from here is whether he can recover in the coming weeks.

In politics, though, it’s much easier to chop down your opponent than recover your own good name, so we would expect and all-hands-on-deck effort on behalf of Democrats to tear down Walker.

But there are two problems with that. One is that there has been a concerted effort to do just that for about two straight years now, and Walker still isn’t unpopular.

And secondly, Democrats may not have the money to make it happen. As the Plum Line’s Greg Sargent reported this week, top Wisconsin Democrats are fuming that the national party hasn’t done more to help them.

The Democratic National Committee is now pushing back on that idea, pointing to all the things it has done to help defeat Walker.

Regardless of who’s right, these kinds of fights don’t happen on the winning side of the ledger. And they should be seen as further evidence that the Wisconsin recall is getting away from Democrats.

That’s not to say it’s over; as the Nebraska GOP Senate primary showed us, two and a half weeks is a long time in politics. But in a race where both candidates are very well-known (as Walker and Barrett are), moving the needle significantly in a short period of time is certainly more difficult.

Which is why this race slides down our governor’s line, from No. 2 to No. 5 (in order of which seats are most likely to flip control).

To the line!

5. Wisconsin (Republican-controlled): See above. All of the seats on this line are competitive, but at this point, we’re not ready to put Wisconsin ahead of the toss-ups listed below in Montana, New Hampshire and Washington state. Barrett is certainly the underdog at this point. (Previous ranking: 2)

4. Montana (Democratic-controlled): This is by all accounts a Republican-leaning state, but Democrats have a statewide official, in Attorney General Steve Bullock, while Republicans have a pretty uncertain crop of candidates. The leading GOP contender appears to be former congressman Rick Hill, who Democrats noted this week was once rated the second most-difficult boss in Congress. We have yet to see what Hill is made of, but it will go a long way in determining the GOP’s chances here. An automated poll from Democratic-leaning pollster Public Policy Polling this week showed Bullock and Hill tied at 39 percent. (Previous ranking: 3)

3. Washington (D): Quitting Congress to campaign may not have been enough for former congressman Jay Inslee (D). Stand for Children, an education advocacy group that backed Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire in 2008, just endorsed Attorney General Rob McKenna (R). And McKenna outraised Inslee in April despite special legislative sessions that gave him only 18 days to raise money. (Previous ranking: 4)

2. New Hampshire (D): The Democratic primary here appears to be more competitive than the GOP race, where attorney and 2010 Senate candidate Ovide Lamontagne has a huge early edge in a new PPP poll. On the Democratic side, former state senators Jackie Cilley and Maggie Hassan were neck-and-neck in the same poll, but Hassan recently landed the backing of the Democratic women’s group Emily’s List. The general election is a virtual tie no matter who emerges. (Previous ranking: 5)

1. North Carolina (D): There’s been some rare good news for Democrats here in the past couple weeks. Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, the stronger candidate, won the May 8 Democratic primary, and the latest polling has former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory’s lead shrinking to the (high) single digits. But Democrats still face an uphill battle here, and the Republican Governors Association quickly started hammering Dalton with ads. Democrats, to their credit though, were quick with a response. (Previous ranking: 1)

Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.

 
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