The Wisconsin recall election that union groups and Democrats had hoped would oust Republican Gov. Scott Walker is proving to be a tougher fight than they expected, and now a looming loss on Tuesday threatens to set back both the Democratic Party and the unions.
The latest polls show Walker leading Democrat Tom Barrett by a modest but solid margin that has many political analysts predicting victory for the beleaguered incumbent. A Marquette University Law School poll showed Walking leading Barrett 52 percent to 45 percent just days before Wisconsin votes.
"I'd guess a 51-to-49 Walker victory," Wisconsin GOP strategist Mark Graul predicted.
There was a time when things looked much more hopeful for Democrats. In January, they turned in 1 million petition signatures seeking the recall of Walker, who angered the unions by limiting the collective bargaining powers of those that represented public employees.
But the recall effort fizzled in recent months, in part because the unions have been unable to generate statewide outrage over Walker's tough government reforms, including the collective bargaining restrictions.
Marquette political science professor John McAdams told the Washington Examiner that even if Democrats somehow defeated Walker, they would have a difficult time undoing his collective bargaining reforms because Republicans would still control the state legislature.
But a Walker victory would have national repercussions for both unions and Democrats, he said.
"If Walker wins, it sends the message that a governor can take on a public-sector union and win," McAdams said.
Walker has raised and spent vastly more than Barrett, as much as 8-to-1 by some estimates. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a watchdog group, reported that Walker by late May had raised $30.5 million, while Barrett had less than $4 million.
"Gov. Walker has been able to put an awful lot of money into this race, and it has enabled him and his supporters to spend an awful lot of money to get a positive message out," Scott Furlong, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, told the Examiner.
Even though Democrats have charged that Walker has failed to create all the jobs he promised, the governor has put out a new ad touting a jobs report that shows he's created 33,000 jobs since taking office.
"Our reforms are working," Walker said in the ad, "and we are moving Wisconsin forward."
Democrats and union officials have grumbled that the Democratic National Committee never gave them the money they needed to beat Walker. President Obama on Friday flew right over Wisconsin without stopping to campaign for Barrett, landing next door in Minnesota to promote a jobs program for veterans before spending the night at his home in neighboring Illinois.
Former President Clinton did campaign for Barrett in Milwaukee, a Democratic stronghold that the party hopes will turn out in big numbers for Barrett, the city's mayor.
State Rep. Brett Hulsey, a Democrat who represents part of Madison, said a Barrett victory hinges on his ability to convince about 400,000 voters who turned out in 2008 for Obama but not in 2010, when Barrett ran against Walker, to vote on Tuesday.
"Those extra 400,000 people you have to figure are not big Walker fans," Hulsey said. "Therein lies the hope."