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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.

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The making of a lightning rod

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Walker would rather not be going through this ordeal at all, just 16 months after taking office. He became a lightning rod last year when, with the help of the Republican-majority state legislature, he pushed through an agenda that sought to close Wisconsin's budget deficit of $3 billion (over two years) in part by extracting concessions from most of the unionized government workers – including stripping them of their most sacred right of collective bargaining.

Even as Democrats railed against what they said was union busting in the guise of sensible economic policy, conservative groups hailed the new governor as a role model for other Republican governors to emulate.

Republicans with national stature have been lining up to endorse Walker: Mr. Romney in April declared him a "hero"; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal have joined Walker on the campaign trail; and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus described the governor as the "anti-Barack Obama," predicting that his reelection will help the GOP "pounce on the president and other Democrats on the ballot with him in November."

"Scott Walker has a very clear vision [of] where the state should go, and Republicans can see that. Nationally, he is an attractive image for the party," says Arnold Shober, a professor of government at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis. "One complaint about Mitt Romney is who knows what he thinks? That is not the case with Scott Walker. The Republican Party is hungering for individual standard-bearers for new ideas."

National Democrats appear less engaged in the battle on behalf of Mr. Barrett, mayor of Milwaukee, who in early May won the right to take on Walker in the recall. Barrett ran against Walker for the governorship in 2010, losing 46.5 percent to 52.3 percent.

At time of writing, Obama had yet to comment on the race, and the Wisconsin Democratic Party has asked for – but not received – $500,000 from the Democratic National Committee to help with field operations. DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, however, sent a fundraising e-mail Wednesday to millions of party supporters seeking solicitations on Barrett's behalf.

"We will go ahead with what we have," says Phil Walzak, communications director for the Barrett campaign, adding that "the campaign welcomes the investment" of the national party. To date, Barrett's greatest support is from labor unions, which have the most to lose if recall voters endorse Walker's agenda June 5, says Brooking's Mr. Galston.

A Walker win is looking more likely. The governor has pulled ahead 50 percent to 44 percent, according to a poll of likely voters released May 16 by Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee.

To many Wisconsin voters, the election can't end soon enough. The war between the unions and Walker has lasted a year – beginning with the showdown at the State Capitol in Madison over the budget – and a certain amount of fatigue has set in. People are bombarded by media ads and direct mail, and some are tired of thinking and hearing about it.

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