Republican presidential candidates criss-crossing Wisconsin this weekend — including the Madison area — would love an endorsement from Gov. Scott Walker before Tuesday’s primary vote.
Walker’s campaign spokeswoman said he’s not picking a favorite because his full attention is on defending himself against a recall election scheduled for June. But some political scientists say that’s only part of the story.
Polls show that the recall will be so close that Walker can’t risk alienating even a few Republican voters by endorsing one presidential hopeful over the others, said Mordecai Lee, a UW-Milwaukee professor of government affairs and former Democratic state lawmaker.
“Walker has no margin of error,” said Lee, pointing to polls that indicate the recall may be as close as the April 2011 state Supreme Court race that was decided by about 7,000 votes out of 1.5 million. “For Walker there is absolutely no self-benefit to endorsing anyone. He’s already a hero to every Republican. Walker hurts himself if he endorses any individual candidate.”
A recent Marquette Law School poll shows 39 percent of likely GOP primary voters in the state favored former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, with 31 percent for former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, 11 percent for U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and 5 percent for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia.
Romney was in the Madison area Saturday, greeting about 40 supporters in a Walker campaign field office in Fitchburg.
With U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, in tow, Romney shooks hands, signed autographs, posed for pictures and made a short speech during the 40-minute visit.
“It feels better and better. The support for my campaign is growing stronger and stronger,” he said. “This was an uphill battle for me if you looked back three or four weeks ago. And now we’re looking like we’re going to win this thing on Tuesday.”
About 100 onlookers were outside, most of them holding signs with anti-Walker and anti-Romney messages. Some cheered Romney but they were drowned out by boos and refrains of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” as the candidate grinned and waved on his way in and out of the office building on Cahill Main.
Megan Cramer, a UW-Madison student from Fond du Lac, was one of several supporters who didn’t fit into the room where Romney made his short speech, but she was excited after meeting him as he walked through the office suite.
“He stopped and shook our hands,” Cramer said. “I got my little autograph.”
On the street protesting Romney were Bob and Sandy Fuller of Sun Prairie. They said they came to voice disgust with the shift they’ve seen in the Republican Party. He is a retiree who fixes small engines to make a few dollars, while she is clerical worker at Madison Area Technical College whose pay has slipped as her union made concessions in exchange for a contract extension just before Walker’s 2011 budget repair bill removed most public sector bargaining rights.
Romney is scheduled to return to the area for a “town hall meeting” at 5:10 p.m. Sunday at the Madison Marriott West Hotel, 1313 John Q. Hammons Drive in Middleton.
--The Associated Press contributed to this report.