Everyone, even Mitt Romney’s campaign aides, agreed that last Tuesday’s Republican presidential primary voting in Wisconsin was overshadowed by upcoming recall elections for governor, lieutenant governor and four state Senate seats.
They’ll get no argument from this quarter.
But did Tuesday’s elections in Wisconsin — which also included nonpartisan judicial contests as well as races for county, municipal and school board posts — send any signals regarding the upcoming recall elections?
Collective bargaining is popular: The issue that stirred the great protests of February and March 2011 was Gov. Scott Walker’s assault on collective bargaining rights. The governor and his backers continue to claim that the opposition to their initiative was limited to “union bosses” and out-of-state “big labor” interests. That was always a fantasy. But it was refuted Tuesday when Dane County voters were asked: “Should all Wisconsin workers have the right to seek safe working conditions and fair pay through collective bargaining?” Rural, small town, suburban and urban voters backed labor rights by an overwhelming 68 percent to 32 percent vote.
More voters backed collective bargaining than supported any presidential candidate — including the most popular vote getter in the county, Barack Obama. More voters backed collective bargaining than voted for all the Republican presidential candidates — combined.
Not all Republicans like Walker: Exit polls showed that 20 percent of Republican primary voters disapprove of the governor. The strongest disapproval was from backers of Rick Santorum, 36 percent of whom expressed disapproval of Walker. Among Ron Paul backers, the disapproval rate was 29 percent.
One in seven Republican primary voters told exit pollsters they “strongly disapprove” of Walker.
These numbers parallel figures from other surveys, which indicate a small but significant level of distaste for the governor among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. Walker’s challengers should be conscious of this as they develop their messages for the recall campaign.
Walker ties can be politically toxic: Judges appointed by the governor last year were rejected by voters in Milwaukee, Dane and Racine counties. In Milwaukee and Dane counties, the tie to the governor was an out-front issue; in Racine County, Walker’s allies such as state Sen. Van Wanggaard and state Rep. Robin Vos were lead backers of the governor’s appointee. In all three cases, challengers who were not tied to the governor easily prevailed.
In contests across Wisconsin, activists who got involved in last year’s protests won elections, frequently displacing allies of the governor.
In Dane County, for instance, progressives significantly expanded their County Board majority. Before there were 23 progressives, and now 28 of the 37 board members will be from that camp. That is the largest progressive majority in recent memory.
Taking note of the anti-Walker sentiment in the election, County Board Chair Scott McDonell declared, “Scott Walker was my co-pilot.”
Ultimately, the recall elections will be hard-fought, and probably closely decided. But the signals from Tuesday indicate that those who seek to recall and remove the governor and his allies have plenty of traction.
John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org