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Walker Recall Will Be Referendum on 2010

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has wisely decided not to challenge the validity of the petitions that were presented to the state demanding his recall. Rather than getting involved in a nasty Bush-Gore lawsuit he might lose even before fighting for his office, he’s better off simply going straight to the voters sometime this summer.

The hundreds of thousands of signatures were largely the work of his union opponents who hope to undo the results of the 2010 elections when the people of Wisconsin chose a conservative Republican for the governor’s chair as well as a GOP-run legislature. The vote will be something of a referendum on the 2010 election in which Wisconsin can, in effect, get a mulligan for its choice at that time. The recall will enable us to see whether the state was ready for a politician who meant what he said when he campaigned on a platform of pushing back against civil service unions that are driving states into bankruptcy. While the most recent poll rates this a tossup, the Walker vote represents both an opportunity and a danger to both parties as they seek a leg up heading into this fall’s presidential election.

As today’s Public Policy Polling survey shows, Democrats and their union allies have a real chance to knock off an icon of the GOP’s landslide 2010 midterm victory. Walker’s record is viewed unfavorably by a 52-47 margin, and he trails both likely Democratic challengers, though only by a small amount that is within the margin of error. However, the notion that the vast majority of citizens are clamoring for his eviction from the governor’s office is at best overblown. When asked whether they favor a recall, the result is a flat-footed tie, with 49 percent favoring one and the same number opposing the vote.

It should also be noted that this poll comes at a moment when the GOP is at its nadir in terms of national popularity. A nasty presidential nomination fight is reaching its climax in neighboring Michigan while the economy is on a light uptick, boosting President Obama’s fortunes. Unless you assume, as perhaps some Democrats do, that things will only get worse for Walker and the Republicans during the next few months, the governor may well reason he has nowhere to go but up.

It bears repeating that Democrats are taking a big chance by going after Walker. If they win, they will have effectively reversed the verdict of 2010, and it will be rightly seen as an omen foretelling a big Obama victory in November. But if they lose, it will be just as big a morale boost for Republicans and also set up Walker as a major figure in national politics. Seen in this light, Democrats and state union activists must know if they fail to defeat Walker now, they may well live to rue their defeat in years to come as he rises even higher in national esteem.


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