Next week's Wisconsin recall: a test drive of themes for Election 2012
Wisconsin recall election between Gov. Scott Walker (R) and Tom Barrett (D) enters its last furious week. It is a proving ground for the themes and players of the national election in November, analysts say.
For a preview of the November presidential election, look no further than the dogfight over the governorship of Wisconsin as it heads to a tooth-and-claw climax June 5.Skip to next paragraph
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The recall election of Gov. Scott Walker stems from Wisconsin's own political history in the 16 months since voters here gave him and fellow Republican lawmakers a lock on the statehouse – and carte blanche to set a sort of "austerity plan" for the state. But the themes – and the flood of money from outside interests – that define this gubernatorial election mirror those of the 2012 presidential race so closely that many political analysts see the Wisconsin contest as a test drive for the national general election five months hence.
In both contests there's the dominant issue of jobs – and which candidate has the better recipe for creating more of them. There's the matter of government overspending and how best to rein it in. And there's the debate over whether government's primary role is to protect struggling middle-class workers from exploitation or, rather, to get out of the way of enterprising capitalists so that the virtuous cycle of wealth accumulation, reinvestment, and economic expansion can proceed unimpeded.
The alliances are similar, too. In Governor Walker's corner, as in presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's, are conservative "super political-action committees" and wealthy business interests driven by a renewed determination to slash government, cut taxes, reduce regulation, and, not least of all, clip the political and economic power of labor unions.
In challenger Tom Barrett's corner, as in President Obama's, are Big Labor and, the Democrats hope, a large share of the "99 percent" who believe the wealthy don't pay enough taxes, want government to safeguard the environment and the needy, and see investment in the health and education of most of the populace as a benefit, not a drain.
"Walker is seen as standing for a more aggressive brand of conservatism at the state level," says William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution's Governance Studies Program in Washington. If recall voters in Wisconsin elect to keep him, "then that will say something pretty significant about the mood of the people and their receptivity to the core messages of the two political parties."
The outcome in Wisconsin is expected to be a psychological boost to the winning side heading into November, especially because this is a fickle swing state. Wisconsin voted big for Mr. Obama in 2008, then shifted its allegiance to the Republicans and Walker, rejecting longtime US Sen. Russell Feingold (D) for good measure.
"The Wisconsin election is unquestionably the second most important election in the United States in 2012" next to November, says Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor history expert at the University of California, Santa Barbara.