Labor and Dem strategists think they’ve unearthed a silver bullet to use against their top recall target, Wisconsin GOP state senator Randy Hopper: A 2009 quote in which he explicitly argued that budgets should not be used to advance “controversial policy that has little chance of passing as separate legislation.”

This is exactly the maneuver Governor Scott Walker and Wisconsin Republicans — Hopper included — used to pass the rollback of bargaining rights, Dems and labor strategists will argue.

The Hopper quote can be found in a press release that’s still up on the Web site of another state senate Republican. The release quotes three Republicans — Hopper, Sheila Harsdorf, and Dan Kapanke — calling for the removal of all “not-fiscal policy and all earmarks” from the 2009-2011 biennial budget. From the release:

“Budgets should not be used to conceal controversial policy that has little chance of passing as separate legislation,” Hopper said. “None of the non-fiscal policy will help solve our budget deficit and much of it will harm working families all over Wisconsin.”

Dems and labor officials will jump on this as proof that Hopper was so willing to lend support to Scott Walker’s ideological crusade against unions that he abandoned his own stated principles to do so.

Now, Republicans will surely argue that there’s no comparison between using the budget to pass a rollback of bargaining rights and using it to pass earmarks and small bore non-fiscal policy items. At the time, the sort of non-fiscal item these Republicans objected to were things like adding liquor licenses in select cities and changes to the transit bureaucracy. What’s more, Walker and Republicans have argued that the rollback of bargaining rights is fiscal policy.

But the move by labor and Dems to unearth this kind of thing and use it in the recall drive is significant, in that it suggests that the push to recall GOP senators has now kicked into full-blown campaign mode, complete with ads, extensive polling and, yes, aggressive opposition research. And it’s not slowing down anytime soon, particularly against Hopper, who may be the most vulnerable of the lot.