Most of the focus in Tuesday’s primary was on the Democratic side, where Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett beat his nearest rival by 24 points to take on Walker in a rematch of the 2010 governor’s race.
While more Democrats voted for one of their candidates than did Republicans — 670,278 compared with 646,458 — it’s highly unusual for an incumbent facing only token opposition to get that many votes in a primary.
Walker’s total of 626,538 votes nearly equaled all of what the Democrats got, and it was more than what Barrett and his chief opponent Kathleen Falk received combined. Walker said on WTMJ-AM in Milwaukee that it was a good sign for him given that there was no coordinated get-out-the-vote effort for the primary.
“We went out and were campaigning, but we didn’t have an organized, sustained get-out-the-vote effort for this,” Walker said. “Obviously we do for June 5th.”
Democrats dismissed any concerns about Walker’s high numbers in the primary, saying their voters remain highly motivated for the June 5 recall, which will be only the third time in U.S. history a governor has faced such an election.
Barrett said it’s no surprise the GOP turnout was high given that Walker has been blanketing the airwaves with television ads.
“They worked as hard as they could to get a general election-type turnout,” Barrett said outside his home Wednesday with his former Democratic rivals by his side in a show of unity.
A Marquette University poll released last week showed the contest between Barrett and Walker to be a dead heat. It is clear voters on both sides are highly motivated. The 30 percent turnout was the highest for a primary in Wisconsin since 1952.
Republican state Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, co-leader of the Senate who also faces a recall election, said he didn’t think Walker’s numbers foretold how the general election will go.
“I don’t take away anything from it,” Fitzgerald said.
The Wisconsin Republican Party said Wednesday that it had already made more than 2 million voter contact calls since January, which is more than was made during the entire 2010 election cycle.
Democrats announced a series of get-out-the-vote activities across the state on Wednesday, including phone banks with Barrett and lieutenant governor candidate Mahlon Mitchell.
Enthusiasm on the Democratic side has not waned, said Kelly Steele, spokesman for a union-backed coalition called We Are Wisconsin. Any voters who stayed home during the primary will not sit idly by when Walker’s fate is at hand, he said.
“Scott Walker’s field operations cannot match on-the-ground enthusiasm to recall him,” Steele said in a memo sent to supporters Wednesday. “As much as Walker and his operatives hype GOP primary turnout and downplay the impact of the nearly 1.8 million signatures filed in January, the reality is the ground game to defeat him is the culmination of a 15th month movement.”
The recall was spurred by anger over Walker’s proposal passed last year that effectively ended collective bargaining for most state workers and forced them to pay more for pension and health care benefits. Walker said it was needed to help balance a $3.6 billion budget shortfall, while opponents said the true goal was to cripple the powerful unions that typically support Democrats.
Wisconsin has been embroiled in political chaos for more than a year, with a previous round of nine recall elections last year targeted six Republican and three Democratic state senators. Two Republicans lost, leaving them with a narrow one-vote majority in the Senate.
This year, four more Republican senators were targeted for recall and one chose to resign rather than face election. The Senate is now split 16-16 and Democrats need to win only one race to gain control, which could be short-lived given the regular round of elections in November in which 16 senators are up.
The gubernatorial recall promises to be a wild four weeks full of attack ads from all sides.
Walker goes into it with a significant financial advantage, although he said Wednesday he expects “a dump truck load of cash come in from out of state and try to attack us.”
Walker tapped his national prominence to raise $25 million so far, most of it from out of state, shattering fundraising records he set during the 2010 race. He raised much of that money thanks to a quirk in Wisconsin law that allows officials targeted for recall to accept unlimited campaign donations for a time. For Walker, that window lasted nearly five months.
Walker had $4.9 million in the bank as of April 23, compared with Barrett’s $475,500. Barrett raised $831,500 this year so far.
The Republican Governors Association launched a new ad on Wednesday that showed a picture of Barrett next to former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. During the 2010 race Republicans and Walker frequently linked Barrett to Doyle, who served two terms but left with low approval ratings.
“He will continue to amass huge amounts of money,” Barrett “But at the end of the day we will have a ground game that will match that.”