Wisconsin voters will head to the polls Tuesday to decide whether to recall Gov. Scott Walker (R) and install Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) in his place.
The recall election has drawn massive amounts of national attention and money — $63.5 million and counting, to be exact. Walker enters Election Day as a slight favorite, with even Democrats acknowledging privately that a Barrett win at this point would be an upset. Of course, upsets happen.
With the national spotlight so firmly fixed on Tuesday’s election — the Fix believes Tuesday’s vote is the second most important and influential race of 2012 aside from the presidential — the stakes for a number of players on both sides are absolutely massive.
Below is a breakdown of who will be made — or broken — by what happens Tuesday in the Badger State.
●Scott Walker. No one has more to gain or lose than Walker. A defeat at the ballot box would, obviously, be a major setback for a politician widely viewed as a rising star when he was elected in 2010. Coming back from such a high-profile defeat — particularly one that came about 18 months after his initial statewide victory — would be decidedly difficult. If Walker wins, however, he will immediately become a national conservative hero (even more than he already is). He would be cast as the guy who stood on principle, stared down the best that Democrats could throw at him and emerged victorious. Don’t be surprised to hear some Walker 2016 or Walker 2020 presidential chatter if the governor can pull off a victory.
●Organized labor. If Walker has the highest stakes in the recall vote, the labor movement is a close second. Walker’s bill stripping public-sector unions of their collective-bargaining rights last year triggered a national outcry from labor, which viewed the Wisconsin law as the first step down a slippery slope of workers’ rights being forfeited. While there’s no doubt that the effort to recall Walker wouldn’t have happened without the energy and organization of the labor movement, unions also largely backed Barrett’s primary opponent — a move that some Democrats believe cost them precious time and money to make the case against the incumbent. If Walker survives on the heels of labor’s defeat in the 2011 recall effort to take over the Wisconsin Senate (it came up a seat short) and a failed attempt to unseat then-Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) in a 2010 primary, there will be lots — and lots — of questions asked about whether unions retain the political power they once did.
●President Obama. The Democratic National Committee and the White House have gone out of their way to make clear just how much financial and organizational support they have lent to Barrett’s effort. (DNC officials say more than $1.4 million has been directed to Wisconsin in the 2012 cycle so far.) They touted the fact that DNC Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz traveled to the state last month to aid Barrett and that former president Bill Clinton stumped with the Democratic nominee last week. But some in Wisconsin — and Washington — are unhappy that the president himself decided not to campaign in the Badger State. (One party strategist noted that Obama had time to endorse in a House primary in New Jersey late last week but not to come to Wisconsin.) If Walker wins, not only will Obama get blamed for not doing more — which is always a difficult debate to referee — but there also will be plenty written about how the recall results bode poorly for Obama’s chances in Wisconsin in the fall.
●Tom Barrett. Barrett is the forgotten man in all of this, but he’s got a lot on the line, too. A former member of Congress, Barrett is now in his third run for governor (he lost in the Democratic primary in 2002 and then to Walker in 2010). A trifecta of gubernatorial defeats would amount to the end (or darn close) of Barrett’s statewide ambitions.
●Bill Clinton. The recall election is nothing but upside for the former president. If Barrett wins, the after-action analysis will almost certainly focus on Bubba’s last-minute campaigning for the party’s nominee. If Barrett loses, no one will blame Clinton — concluding that he did the best he could but not even his popularity could drag the Democrat across the line. Wisconsin is just another reminder that in politics, it’s much easier to be a former president than a current one.