John Nichols: Failure to focus on labor rights hurts Dems

2012-05-22T05:45:00Z 2012-05-22T08:18:14Z John Nichols: Failure to focus on labor rights hurts DemsJOHN NICHOLS |

With the release last week of the Marquette University Law School poll that had Scott Walker leading Tom Barrett by a 50-44 margin, Walker’s most naive enthusiasts expressed delight while Barrett’s supporters panicked.

Both were wrong.

In the latest Marquette Poll, almost half of the 600 likely voters surveyed identified as conservatives, while 30 percent identified as moderates and 20 percent identified as liberals.

But the pattern of exit polls conducted in major elections over the past decade suggests that the accurate breakdown is far different. One of Wisconsin’s savviest number crunchers, Jud Lounsbury, notes that “if we average the last three exit polls in Wisconsin (2006, 2008 and 2010), we find that the actual breakdown of the Wisconsin electorate is 22.7 percent liberal, 46.7 percent moderate, and 31 percent conservative.”

But there’s an even more significant divergence in the new Marquette poll.

The previous Marquette poll, which showed a dead heat between Walker and Barrett, found that 43 percent of those identified as conservatives, while 32 percent identified as moderates and 22 percent as liberals.

In other words, the new poll upped the number of conservatives interviewed — those most likely to support Walker — by five percentage points while it reduced the percentage of liberals polled — those most likely to vote for Barrett — by two points.

When we figure in the slight shift among moderates toward Barrett in the newer poll, the divergence in sample groups (upping the conservative percentage while reducing the liberal percentage) accounts for the entire boost in Walker’s number and the entire drop in Barrett’s number.

In other words, there is good reason to conclude that the race remains a dead heat — despite the fact that, in the period immediately prior to the latest round of Marquette polling, Walker outspent Barrett by roughly 25-1.

Republican and Democratic pollsters acknowledge that the governor has a “ceiling” on his approval ratings and his percentages in head-to-head races. He can’t get above 50 percent.

That fact excites Democrats, and it scares Republicans — which explains why the governor and his supporters continue to run scared, even going to the extreme position of peddling “revised” job numbers to counter bad news from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But Republicans are right to note that Walker rarely falls more than three points below that 50 percent level.

The polls confirm that Wisconsin remains closely divided with regard to its governor and the question of whether to recall and remove him.

But anyone who has seen a yard with a “United Wisconsin to Recall Walker” sign next to a yard with an “I Stand With Governor Walker” sign knew that.

So what do the latest polls tell us that is important about the next two weeks?

Democrats wrong to downplay collective bargaining issues

When Walker launched his assault on labor rights, hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites protested in communities across the state. The intense moment created a classic “Which Side Are You On?” demand on citizens. Walker had, according to exit polls from the previous November, won 37 percent of the vote from members of union households. After things blew up at the Capitol, polls showed support for the governor from union households fell to 20 percent.

Fourteen months later, with the recall approaching, a new Public Policy Polling survey has Walker with a 39 percent approval rating from union households. Even if that figure is somewhat inflated by over-polling of conservatives, it is reasonable to suggest that the governor has won back many private-sector union members. I asked friends whose workplaces are represented by the Teamsters and Sheet Metal Workers and they agreed that 25 percent to 30 percent of their fellow workers lean toward Walker.

That’s remarkable for a governor who not only attacked public-sector unions but who entered the Legislature as an advocate of “right-to-work” laws, which undermine the ability of private-sector unions to organize and negotiate effectively — and who was recently seen in a video discussing with a billionaire donor strategies for undermining private-sector unions.

Soft messaging by Democrats on labor issues has done them serious harm with voters in their potential base. And a failure to educate the broad mass of voters on the importance of collective bargaining to protecting middle-class wages and benefits has been equally damaging.

Republicans do not make this sort of mistake. Walker’s done massive outreach to cultural and social conservatives, and he did not hesitate, even as the recall approached, to sign controversial bills that are high on right-wing priority lists. Walker knows that a recall election in a closely divided state is about maximizing appeal to the base, not softening messages and avoiding issues.

Gender gap politics are complicated

Polling in recent weeks has shown that the governor has a big advantage among male voters: 52-44.

But it was much closer among women. While 51 percent of women say they disapprove of the governor, 47 percent say they approve.

The high level of support the governor gets among men accounts for whatever advantage he has in all recent polls. Why’s he doing so well? Walker’s run a “guy” strategy, with high-profile appearances at events like the National Rifle Association convention in St. Louis. He had no qualms about signing legislation that weakens pay equity protections for women — a play to male workers who think they are somehow harmed by fair treatment of women in the workplace. The governor and his campaign aides know what they’re doing.

Now that significant advertising has gone up criticizing the governor’s moves on pay equity and other issues, the gender-divide politics might begin to shift against him. But the “war on women” message needs to be developed and extended in sophisticated ways. In addition to outreach to women, the Barrett camp and its supporters should be thinking about smart ways to reduce the governor’s advantage among men.

Young voters are key for Barrett

Among voters under age 30, Barrett is favored over Walker by dramatic margins — 25 points in the PPP poll. Yet young voters are the least likely to cast ballots, especially in a recall election that will take place when campuses are on break.

It’s difficult to mobilize young voters and get them to the polls; that’s why campaigns appeal to older voters, who more consistently show up at the polls. But the overwhelming opposition to Walker among the rising generation of Wisconsinites should have Democrats thinking about how to appeal to them — both in media and with direct-mobilization strategies. 

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(34) Comments

  1. PandaBear
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    PandaBear - May 27, 2012 3:31 pm
    This recall is about one central issue: Collective Bargaining for Public Teacher Unions. I support Walker, because his decision on this topic supports a fair and level playing field.

    We conservatives advocate fairness, and we are NOT against collective bargaining power for unions. We DO, however, oppose collective bargaining for Public Teacher Unions, because we want a level playing field for the worker and the customer.

    All collective bargaining affects the cost and quality of the product. When a private company’s union (like at GM) affects the product cost, that’s fine. Why? BECAUSE IF WE CUSTOMERS DON’T LIKE IT, WE ARE FREE TO PURCHASE CARS FROM SOMEONE ELSE. Our ability to walk out the door with the money balances our bargaining leverage with that of the union. Everything’s fair.

    But with public teacher unions, the customers (parents and taxpayers) have no such freedom. They can’t walk out the door with the money. THAT’S THE KEY DIFFERENCE.

    One way the customers could walk out the door with the money is with school vouchers, but public teacher unions oppose giving this bargaining leverage to their customers. They want them begging before school boards, not simply choosing what’s best for their kids. Whether or not you support vouchers, one can’t avoid the fact that without them, teacher’s unions have dramatically more bargaining leverage than their customers. That’s not a level playing field at all.

    Bottom Line: The worker should never have more bargaining power than the customer. If you won’t empower your customer to choose another product, then you shouldn’t have the power to make that product more expensive.

    Thanks for making it fair, Governor Walker!
  2. epic
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    epic - May 24, 2012 9:54 am
    Most people don't want unions or they would be clamoring for them. Most union members in the U.S. are coddled and pampered public employees. Unions are in a death spiral. Get over it.
  3. powmda
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    powmda - May 24, 2012 6:03 am
    "Labor rights"?? Please!! The only right that the public unions want is the "right" to continue to rip off the taxpayers. These arguments may play well in a community where the economy is based on sponging off the taxpayers. In the rest of the state? Not so well. The rest of us are delighted to see our property taxes go down!
  4. tomtom33
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    tomtom33 - May 24, 2012 5:46 am
    Politicians are bought and paid for on both sides, every day. If what you claim about ALEC is correct, we wouldn't even be mentioning ALEC. Do you suppose that the extreme top has the votes to win any election?

    ALEC is only one of a great number of groups that offer ideas and boilerplate legislation. And those groups represent the full spectrum of ideology. I don't agree with some of ALEC's ideas. Others are very good. Boilerplate legislation has been around for decades. I have used it myself in writing legislation.

    The beginning goes back decades or centuries. You need to be well grounded in politics to really understand what is happening today. A few years mean nothing.
  5. spooky tooth
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    spooky tooth - May 23, 2012 6:16 pm
    tomtom, I just felt like going back to the beginning so people know how we got from there to here. And if you don't think this job mess wasn't manufactured, packaged and sold with the help of bought and paid for politicians, you're spooky. Scott Walker doesn't have an original thought in his head, everything he's doing is from the ALEC playbook, and it only benefits those at the extreme top.
  6. tomtom33
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    tomtom33 - May 23, 2012 3:18 pm
    You are spooky. Exactly how does this relate to the failure to focus on labor rights? You did manage to include most of the demonizing buzz words though. Nice work.
  7. spooky tooth
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    spooky tooth - May 23, 2012 1:21 pm
    Job loses were manufactured by The Chamber of Commerce, The Koch brothers and a few others by buying politicians. They gave the NRA all the guns they want in return for their votes. They sold out women and gays to religions groups in return for their votes. They have welcomed the KKK and other fringe groups into the ranks in return for their votes.

    What the Chamber of Commerce and the Kochs' got was NAFTA, CAFTA and Most Favored Nations Trade Agreements. This allowed them to shut down factories in the US and move to where labor was cheap and sometimes even slave labor. Then they brought their goods back into the US without paying import taxes. And since they were producing in China, India and Brazil they didn't have to pay import taxes there either.

    These super rich got their politicians to end Glass-Stegall and Full Service Banks merged with Investment banks. 3 1/2 years ago this brought the US to it's knees and almost caused a second great depression. The second great depression was avoided when the middle class bailed the super rich out. But the middle class paid more than that, they lost their saving and retirement money too.

    Now we have a bunch of angry people in the US and the Koch brothers and the Chamber of Commerce used propaganda and hate to "divide and conquer". They blamed Unions for this mess and since 1/2 the country will believe anything they hear on Fox here we are in what is almost a civil war in WI.

    Scott Walker is nothing but a puppet serving the needs of a few greedy pigs out to destroy Unions so the middle class will fall. The reason these greedy pigs hate Unions is because there is power in numbers and one thing that has always been true for the middle class is united we stand, divided we fall.
  8. gdp
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    gdp - May 23, 2012 9:42 am
    Yes, younger voters are critical. Fortunately, there is a growing number who have intellectually opted out of the welfare state mentality recognizing its cost impact, if not the underlying social malaise. The growing enthusiasm for the Paul candidacy, a case in point, despite the standard downplay of 'mainstream' academics, media and politicians to either family ambition or, at least, marginal/peripheral political status. As the ongoing cultural snafu continues to unravel our economic prosperity going to disrupting our political tranquillity, the resulting social discord encouraged and promoted in hostile circles, will certainly turnout as unforeseen. The real blessing of the socialist experiment, pushed in major part by an indoctrinated academy, is a reawakening of healthier political understanding, one that, if permitted, will right the course to greater prosperity better informed in a more constructive way.
  9. tomtom33
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    tomtom33 - May 23, 2012 7:26 am
    I apologize for my harsh tone. I did note your clarification on a different thread.

    The State equal pay provisions are still in effect. One can still sue in State court under those provisions. I am not aware of anything in Federal law allowing punitive damages.

    The lack of punitive damages does nothing to the burden of proof and makes nothing, in and of itself, harder. The argument has been advanced that punitive damages act as a deterrent. In the area of equal pay, business simply does not knowingly violate the law. Thus no amount of deterrence will do anything.

    The whole idea behind these laws are to assure equal treatment in terms of compensation. That goal has largely been accomplished.
  10. Hogzilla
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    Hogzilla - May 22, 2012 11:32 pm
    When I read articles written by Nichols, it just confirms that I should be voting for Walker. I wonder if that is an intended consequence of his offerings?

    Here's a tip for all the progressives: When you are trying to convince someone of your position, insulting them is usually not an effective method. I had a girlfriend once that did that. She would scream and shout at me until I got sick of it and gave her a taste of her own medicine. Of course, I was immediately the one at fault then. No amount of trying to reason with her would work. She didn't understand that you will catch more flies with honey than you will with vinegar. Looking at you aequalitas....
  11. aequalitas
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    aequalitas - May 22, 2012 10:27 pm
    Prove it fatwallet. Wheres the link saying the majority of Wisconsinites approve of Act 10?
  12. aequalitas
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    aequalitas - May 22, 2012 10:25 pm
    Walker claims his policies ARE responsible for creating (imaginary) jobs using his new magic tabulation model. So if Walker claims the good of job creation he is equally accountable for the bad of job losses, which is the actual truth. Your "tax and regulatory environment" fantasy is equally ludicrous as Walker has given away millions in tax benefits with no resulting increase in jobs.

    It's costing Wisconsin taxpayers plenty to cover the cost of bribing Scott Walker. In fact the legitimate estimate is that for each dollar donated by billionaires such as Diane Hendricks to Scott Walker the billionaires get back $100 in political favors.

    Special Interest Smorgasbord
    A report on the favors for special interests approved by the legislature and the governor in 2011 and 2012
    May 21, 2012

    Despite repeated claims “ Wisconsin is broke,” GOP Governor Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled legislature approved dozens of bills sought by business, construction, real estate, transportation and other powerful special interests during his first 15 months in office. This report, “Special Interest Smorgasbord,” identifies 55 state budget proposals and legislative bills signed into law that benefit those special interests.

    Part I of the report reviews policies that have an identifiable cost such as direct state spending, tax cuts, tax credits or other financial breaks paid for by state government and taxpayers. Part II of the report reviews policies that provide special interests with clear breaks and benefits through relief from regulatory, liability, local control or other issues but have no state cost or an undetermined public cost.

    The policies with an identifiable price tag collectively cost the state $334.5 million in fiscal year 2012-13 – mostly in lost tax revenue – and grow to at least $438.9 million by 2020-21. The total cost will exceed $2 billion over 10 years. Legislators and the governor accepted $23.6 million in campaign contributions from 2009 through 2011 from the special interests that benefited from their actions (Table).

    Annually, these special interest breaks will cost a Wisconsin family of four $235 beginning July 1, 2012 and continue growing to $291 a year in 2020-21.

    However, Wisconsin families face even higher future costs because the legislature and the governor did not fully fund the current state budget; enacted two income tax increases for low- and middle-income families; and made more than $1 billion in cuts to education and health care programs that serve a substantial number of state residents.

    Each two-year session of the legislature typically results in the passage of several hundred legislative bills, many affecting Wisconsin businesses and taxpayers. The 2011-12 legislative session which began in January 2011 and ended in March 2012 was notable since new Republican Governor Scott Walker ran for office on a pro-business platform, and had the luxury of having both houses in the legislature controlled by fellow Republicans. The result was a series of bills that provided significant tax breaks or benefits for investors, companies, industries and other wealthy special interests.

    The policies approved by Walker and the legislature cost state taxpayers money now and in the future. This is because many of these breaks and giveaways are phased in over time and not fully funded in the current budget. This practice is not unique to the current administration and makes it possible to take actions that aren’t affordable now but can be done if the costs are spread out over future years. But this way of paying the state’s bills also commits future legislatures to pay for today’s decisions and leaves less money for future needs. This creates the so-called structural budget deficit – a pay-by-credit-card spending practice that Walker criticized during his 2010 campaign for governor.

    Read more here:
  13. aequalitas
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    aequalitas - May 22, 2012 10:22 pm
    tomtom33 is wrong, Roundtable is right.

    Walker and company like to use a "states' rights" approach similar to that of the southern states and their racist policies attempting to uphold segregation in the 1950's and 1960's civil rights era.

    Walker's excuse, and tomtom33's as well, is that "they can still sue in federal court" ignores that Walker's overturning of equal pay laws at the state level attempt to make the federal courts the first rather than the second venue for pursuing justice. Walker is attempting to thwart the law, not encourage it's use.
  14. aequalitas
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    aequalitas - May 22, 2012 10:19 pm
    No, it's not the left waging war on it's own state of Wisconsin, that would be the REPUBLICANS who speak in military terms about everything they do to our state such as "dropping a bomb", being "tea party warriors", and "divide and conquer".
  15. aequalitas
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    aequalitas - May 22, 2012 10:17 pm
    Well Clyde, now that you've trashed Nichols (in your own mind) why don't you provide us with YOUR credentials so we can compare them side by side?
  16. Roundtable
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    Roundtable - May 22, 2012 9:26 pm
    Lessening the advantage of suing in state court should not cause extra hardship on the part of the party filing the complaint.As I understand it now this can be filed only in Federal court now for punitive damages.Making it harder doesn't make it right, for anyone.This is a tactic to protect business from being sued.Only the Republicans would try this.This sounds like something to repeal when the fair administration is in power.
  17. jonas
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    jonas - May 22, 2012 5:33 pm
    ugh, us v them...such a tired argument
  18. tomtom33
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    tomtom33 - May 22, 2012 3:35 pm
    I remember well John's assertions that Russ was going to pull it out. Those polls were wrong. Oops.
  19. tomtom33
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    tomtom33 - May 22, 2012 3:33 pm
    First of all we have not suffered the worst job losses in the country. Show me how any of the Governor's policies have been responsible for anything. The tax and regulatory environment is more responsible for economic performance than anything the Governor has or has not done.
  20. tomtom33
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    tomtom33 - May 22, 2012 3:29 pm
    You really must be dense or a bald-faced liar. The Equal Pay Act was not repealed. Yet you keep repeating that it was.
  21. tomtom33
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    tomtom33 - May 22, 2012 3:27 pm
    "They are close to meaningless right now with shifting technology."

    Right. That's why they continue to be accurate. People don't spend a lot of money on meaningless polls. Don't you suppose that the polling organizations can figure out the technology?
  22. hughjazzsoul
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    hughjazzsoul - May 22, 2012 2:14 pm
    to late. It is about union rights to taxpayer dollars.

    But please continue to focus on those issues.
  23. hughjazzsoul
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    hughjazzsoul - May 22, 2012 2:11 pm
    great slogans! get them out there for all the democrats to see..
  24. Steve_R
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    Steve_R - May 22, 2012 1:16 pm
    Tom Barrett ran a lacklustre campaign against Scott Walker back in 2010. He is still doing it.
    Collective bargaining isn't the only thing Gov Scooter has done wrong. He takes big money from big conservatives from outside Wisconsin yet decries this state of affairs. He's bought and paid for.We rank last in the country in job creation. Scooter has a defense fund set up...for what reason? He's damaged our education system. He's a liar. And on and on. Anyone, even Tom Barrett, who comes off as just another typical politician, could do better. Then there's Ms Kleesfiich who embodies just about everything that's wrong with politics these days. Forget the fact that she has a position that requires little or no work and little or no ability...she is so far over her head/mind that she doesn't deserve a job as dog catcher.
    We simply deserve better than these two. Neither can do the job they were elected to do in 2010. Throw them out on June 5. Put some balance back in our state's leadership.
  25. NavDan
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    NavDan - May 22, 2012 12:21 pm
    Why report on this Mr. Nichols. The recall is not about Labor anymore, Just ask Fanlund. Funny, Barrett, does not mention it he says It's that damn legal defense fund.
    Falk talked about it a lot where did that get her?

    Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda.... already?

    The recall is in it's death throes and it's a shame it just can't be cancelled so someone could save a little face.

  26. Clyde
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    Clyde - May 22, 2012 10:50 am
    Ever notice when Nichols disects polling results he's wrong? Ever notice when he states his opinion relative to how majorities in the state view things he's wrong? I don't give much credit to Nichols because quite frankly he's a stooge and not worth much. However when it comes consistently getting polls and public opinion wrong I guess I can make an exception. But don't expect much more since he's always so wrong.
  27. Dode
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    Dode - May 22, 2012 9:50 am
    It must suck to live in Little Johnny's world. He and his friends at The Nation are as looney as Mel Gibson's character in Conspiracy Theory. It will be a great day when the left ends its Wars on Wisconsin, Women and Walker. Those all start with W. That was Bush 43's middle initial, Johnny. It must be a conspiracy. An investigative journalist would check that out.
  28. Roundtable
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    Roundtable - May 22, 2012 9:40 am
    Good story,Mr Nichols.But there is more to overall picture here.Lack of DNR enforcement,repealing the Equal pay Act which affects women, Making it harder for our veterans to claim workplace discrimination by using only the Federal system.Almost complete loss of CB rights for workplace fairness.The recent court decisions in finding Act 10 unconstitutional on certain points is very telling that that law will be picked at in the coming months,and thru the years coming up will probably end up being only a shell of it's former self.Who knows though when you think about it.The lack of cohesiveness and tea party divisiveness could easily come back and bite them at the polls. And the upcoming elections will show us more than any poll will.
  29. DFCP
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    DFCP - May 22, 2012 9:32 am
    I guess its ok to dream (or some might say be delusional) but that primary vote was 75% anti labor (add up SW's and TB's totals).
  30. WP_Joe
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    WP_Joe - May 22, 2012 9:31 am
    The campaign against Walker should focus on three things.
    1. The governor is a criminal and a liar who used county employees paid with taxpayer money to do campaign work for him. He lied to the people, saying during his campaign that he would work with unions but all the while was planning his divide and conquer strategy against represented workers. Wisconsin can do better.
    2. The governor's economic policies have been disastrous for Wisconsin, causing us to suffer the worst job losses in the country. Furthermore these policies are unfair, giving taxpayer to corporations and taking it away from firefighters, police, and teachers.
    3. The governor's policies are discriminatory against women, telling doctors what they can and cannot say to their female patients, preventing girls from getting the real information in sex-ed classes that they need to protect themselves, and stopping women from having a good way to seek fair pay for their work.
  31. fedup363
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    fedup363 - May 22, 2012 9:31 am
    John is right on. A recent Pew study showed that pollsters are having a hard time getting a cross section of folks to respond. The folks they poll tend to be older and more conservative since they use landlines to connect to the population. Younger folks often won't touch a landline (my niece and nephew will never answer the landline phone because they know the call is never for them). Long and short of it -- don't trust the polls. They are close to meaningless right now with shifting technology.
  32. nolie
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    nolie - May 22, 2012 8:55 am
    The stink of defeat and desperation is all over nichols. Keeps pumping and pimping and whistling past the graveyard.

    The DNC's internal polls show a pounding of Barrett coming, which is why they and the national unions have pulled their money and support. But nowhere for nichols to run and hide, so he'll keep sliming and spewing his trash and lies.

  33. libsrlooney
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    libsrlooney - May 22, 2012 6:22 am
    You think John? Duh! The dems are making mistake after mistake. Take Falk for instance!
  34. fatwallet
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    fatwallet - May 22, 2012 5:59 am
    Nichols, what a piece of work. If you don't like the most recent poll numbers, go back to the last poll (kind of like going Backwards with Barrett). But, I agree! The Dems should focuss totally on the passage of Act 10 for the next two weeks. You know that's not going to happen because the majority of Wisconsinites agree with the Gov on that one.
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