Wisconsin Democrats have settled on Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett as their candidate to challenge Gov. Scott Walker in the June 5 recall election, which may be the most important race this year outside of the presidential campaign. Though Barrett, who lost to Walker in 2010, was generally seen as more electable than union-backed Kathleen Falk, he still comes into the race with plenty of vulnerabilities that the Walker campaign is eager to exploit. As mayor, Barrett hiked spending and raised taxes and fees by 43 percent, and has presided over an underperforming local economy. Furthermore, Walker himself has a positive record to run on -- closing a budget gap, reforming education and the public sector union system, and lowering property taxes. Barrett has attacked the caps Walker imposed that have helped keep property taxes down.
The Walker campaign was quick to release the following statement after Barrett's victory:
“As Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett enters the general election in his soon to be third statewide losing campaign, he will surely find that his record of raising taxes and promises to continue to do so will not resonate with voters. While Governor Walker’s term has seen unemployment drop to its lowest rate since 2008, unemployment under Tom Barrett has risen more than 28%. Rather than Tom Barrett’s path of taking Wisconsin back to the days of billion-dollar deficits, double-digit tax increases and record job loss, we are confident that voters will choose to stand with Governor Walker and move Wisconsin forward.”
With the Barrett victory largely expected, the big story coming out of tonight may well be the turnout. With 80% of precincts reporting, Walker, running effectively unopposed in the Republican primary, has won 507,868 votes. Meanwhile, Barrett and Falk -- the two main Democrats -- combined for 475,283. Add all five Democratic candidates, and they still barely edged Walker, with 515,693. Given that next month's recall election will hinge on voter enthusiasm, the fact that so many voters turned out to support Walker in a meaningless primary has to be seen as a positive sign for his campaign.