An impending recall election led Gov. Scott Walker on Friday to begin shuffling key members of his staff in preparation for a potentially tough campaign.
Keith Gilkes, Walker's chief of staff, is leaving the administration and taking over the governor's efforts to win a potential recall. Eric Schutt, Walker's deputy chief, will assume the top post and become responsible for running the administration's day-to-day activities and taking a lead decision-making role with many state agencies.
Moving his right-hand man into campaign mode is the first official sign that Walker is taking seriously the threat of a recall, which his falling poll numbers suggest could be a tough fight.
"Clearly the governor is putting the building blocks in place," said Mordecai Lee, UW-Milwaukee political science professor and former Democrat state lawmaker. "He is taking the chance of a recall very seriously."
Recalling the governor would require petition signatures equal to one-quarter of the 2010 gubernatorial election, more than 500,000 people. There are no announced Democratic candidates yet, though Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, and Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, have been mentioned as possible contenders.
Gilkes has served as Walker's campaign manager since April 2009. As head of his political consulting company the Champion Group, Gilkes is expected to take on additional clients but will spend most of his time focusing on the governor.
After a series of victories following his election Walker could be vulnerable now. He pushed through divisive collective bargaining legislation and more than a $1 billion in cuts to education, and struggling with a persistently bad economy. And an ongoing Milwaukee County John Doe investigation is targeting some of his close aides.
Three recent polls have the governor carrying an approval rating of between 37 and 45 percent. The worst showing for the governor was in July's Badger Poll, where fully 59 percent of respondents disapproved of his job performance.
One Wisconsin Now, a liberal organization, recently launched RecallScottWalker.org, a website seeking volunteers to help with the effort. The organization has hired a plane to pull a banner promoting the site across the field during Saturday's University of Wisconsin football game.
"The governor was given everything he asked for, and it is not working," said Scot Ross of One Wisconsin Now. "He clearly knows he will face a recall and he wants to prepare for it."