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Wisconsin recall: Why Democrats think Barrett can beat Walker this time

Democrats in Wisconsin chose Tom Barrett, mayor of Milwaukee, to challenge Gov. Scott Walker (R) in a recall election next month. It's a reprise of their 2010 contest, but now Walker has a record to defend.

By Staff writer / May 9, 2012

Wisconsin Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, shakes hands with supporters before speaking at his primary election victory party Tuesday, May 8, in Milwaukee. Democrats chose Barrett to challenge Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in a June recall election.

Morry Gash/AP

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Wisconsin voters on Tuesday chose Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett as the Democratic Party's nominee for governor, a move that turns back the time machine to 2010 for a rematch between Mr. Barrett and now-incumbent Gov. Scott Walker (R). 

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The first time, Mr. Walker won by almost six percentage points. But the governor now faces a recall election, and this time he has a record to defend. That means this new election – set for June 5 – will be quite a bit different from the last, say some political analysts. 

“Scott Walker now has a record and Barrett will want to attack that record. The dynamic is really different when you have an incumbent running,” says John McAdams, a political scientist at Marquette University in Milwaukee.

Walker’s campaign took little time to point out that Barrett is entering his “third statewide losing campaign” for governor, according to a statement released late Tuesday. Barrett also ran for governor in 2002 but lost in his party’s primary.

The top issue facing both candidates is jobs. Nearly half of primary voters rank “creating new jobs” as the most important issue in the race, while 25 percent say they are voting simply to defeat Walker, according to early May polling by the Marquette University School of Law. Twelve percent said the prevailing issue is restoring the collective bargaining rights of public-sector employees. Last year, Walker pushed through legislation that curtailed those rights, igniting a firestorm that carried through to the current recall. [Editor's note: The original version has been changed to correct the name of the law school that did the polling.]

Although Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is the lowest it has been since 2008, only 5,900 private-sector jobs have been created since Walker took office. (He had pledged during his first campaign that there would be 250,000 new jobs during his four-year term, which is now halfway over.] Moreover, the state lost more jobs than any other between March 2011 and March 2012, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Barrett is expected to seize on that data to reinforce his message that Walker’s agenda hurts job growth.

Speaking to supporters Tuesday in Milwaukee, Barrett said the governor will “run from that record.”

“He took the eye off the ball. Instead of doing what he said he was going to do, which was to create 250,000 jobs, he looked for new way to divide us from each other,” Barrett said.

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