Voters came out in huge numbers Tuesday, forming long lines at polling places from urban Milwaukee to rural areas in the northern part of the state. Estimated voter turnout was 2.4 million — more than in 2010, but lower than the nearly 3 million in 2008.
At the First United Church of Christ in Green Bay, a steady stream of voters filed in, past cookies with patriotic decorations that had been baked by the volunteer at the front desk.
“I voted for [Walker] in 2010 because I realized we have to do something about the deficit. I voted for him in the recall because I don’t believe recall elections are meant for what they’re doing with it,” said Katy Tomlanovich, who teaches at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. She said recall elections should be reserved for politicians who commit gross malfeasance, not for those who make unpopular decisions.
Tomlanovich said she plans to vote for Obama in November but cast a ballot for the Republican on Tuesday. “Scott Walker is actually doing something about [spending], and I think he should be allowed to serve the rest of his term.”
Walker, a former Milwaukee county executive, was elected in 2010, part of a wave of Republican governors who promised to rein in state spending. He has done more than most, joining with a GOP-led legislature to cut spending and strip most collective-bargaining powers from unions representing state workers.
He took office facing a $3 billion budget shortfall left by his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. Since then, Walker has claimed some successes: His office projects that the state will soon show a budget surplus, after climbing out of the red.
But he has not lived up to some promises, including that his policies would create 250,000 jobs over four years. The Associated Press reported that Walker is far off that pace.
Since 2010, the GOP’s push to control government spending has lifted some of its backers to national success. Both New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.) have championed such efforts and have been mentioned as potential running mates for Romney.
But the same strategy has backfired at times. In Ohio last fall, voters rejected a proposal by Gov. John Kasich (R) to curb union bargaining rights. And in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott (R), who has tried similar ideas, has seen his popularity slip.
In Wisconsin, Walker’s policies energized the left — and in response, conservatives mobilized to defend him. Walker faced days of sit-in protests in the state Capitol, then a drive to recall him, as well as Kleefisch and six GOP state senators. Last year, four of those senators survived a recall election, leaving the GOP with a one-vote majority in that chamber.
Two factors conspired to put Wisconsin’s recall effort at the center of American politics: its timing and its location.
The location matters because Wisconsin is a traditional wellspring of left-wing ideas and liberal pols that has recently produced young, ambitious Republicans such as Walker and Ryan. This fall, both parties will claim it as their heartland.
The timing matters because the recall effort comes at the start of the 2012 general-election campaign, when both parties are working out their messages — Republicans seeking a way to sell cuts in budgets and benefits, and Democrats trying to reject the GOP’s austerity without appearing reckless.
It also provides a look ahead at the first presidential race defined by unlimited donations from super PACs.
“After 15 months of this stuff, we can finally put it to bed. And at least there’s a positive movement forward and we can create jobs in the state,” said Donald Thies of Slinger, Wis., who was celebrating Walker’s victory at the candidate’s official party on Tuesday night. Thinking ahead, Thies said, “I think it’ll be close in the fall if the Republican Party does it right.”
Weiner reported from Green Bay and Waukesha, Wis.