With the Wisconsin recall election now official, state Democrats are in a sticky place. Pro-recall forces were able to look united through much of the process, and the million petitions they turned in sent a powerful signal that folks were united against the governor. But there are currently four Democratic candidates hoping they'll be the one to displace Walker. Furthermore, there are no clear winners; two Democrats are in a virtual tie, both in their primary and against Governor Scott Walker.
Things got considerably more complicated on Friday afternoon when, hours after the Government Accountability Board made its announcement, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett announced he was throwing his hat into the ring. Barrett narrowly lost to Walker in 2010, and as mayor of a Democratic stronghold, he's got good name recognition around the state. He's also controversial with the state's labor unions—an awkward situation since it was the fight over collective bargaining rights that triggered the massive protests last year and ultimately the recall effort. Barrett's statement upon entering the race gave a nod to the importance of labor, but that's unlikely carry much weight, particularly when unions have largely picked their preferred candidate.
Kathleen Falk, the former Dane County Executive, was the definite frontrunner prior to Barrett's entry. A favorite with union leaders, she's already got outside groups eager to see her as the party's pick. Her camp has refused Barrett's "clean campaign" pledge, in which candidates promised to donate half the cost of an ad to charity should their campaign or an outside group run a negative ad naming another primary candidate. While her spokesperson did say she also wants a positive campaign, Falk will likely benefit from union efforts to keep Barrett out. Falk and Barrett also face Secretary of State Douglas La Follette and state Senator Kathy Vinehout.
Barrett and Falk are the clear frontrunners, but it's not clear who has the advantage. While Falk can claim union support, Milwaukee is a Democratic stronghold that will likely support its mayor. Meanwhile Barrett's recent loss to Walker may help his name recognitio, but raises questions about whether he can win this time around.
Polls show a close race. Marquette University's monthly results showed Barrett with 36 percent to Falk's 29, but that was with a notable 17 percent undecided. (Vinehout and La Follette each had 8 percent.) Falk's visibility has been aiding her; while in January 56 percent of respondents didn't know enough about her to respond, that number is down to 34. For Barrett things have largely stayed the same in the high 30s.
It's even less clear which Democrat has the advantage against Walker. The latest results, obtained by WisPolitics.com, come from a poll by Democratic firm Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research—in head-to-head contests with Scott Walker, both candidates all but tie the governor. (Among respondents, Barrett got 48 percent to Walker's 47 while Falk got 47 to Walker's 48. The margin of error was 4.4 points.) Here are the full results from both Greenberg and Marquette.
The primary is only about a month away, to be held on May 8. Whoever wins will have a month before the showdown with Walker.