Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker Recall Fight Takes National Spotlight

PHOTO: Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, right, and Democratic challenger Tom Barrett look at one another as they get ready to participate in a televised debate, May 31, 2012, in Milwaukee.PlayJeffrey Phelps/AP Photo
WATCH Wis. Governor Faces Recall

The November duel for the White House between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney is five months away, but the battleground state of Wisconsin may provide a preview today of what is to come when voters head to the polls to vote on whether to recall controversial Gov. Scott Walker.

Walker, a Republican who only came into office 18 months ago, has come under fire for stripping most public unions of their collective bargaining rights in an effort to cut the state's $3.6 billion budget shortfall.

Furious with Walker's plan, his opponents occupied the State Capitol in Madison last winter and collected around a million votes in their bid to oust the governor, well more than the 540,000 they needed to force a recall vote.

Now Walker has to defeat his Democratic opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, if he is to hang on to his job.

Viewed as a test of how far politicians can go to fight special interests during a time of widespread budget problems, the Walker recall fight has drawn the national spotlight -- especially since Wisconsin is a key state in the race for the Oval Office.

"Collective bargaining would only make it more difficult to balance the budget. We are moving things forward," Walker said in an interview Monday on FOX Business Network. "Beyond Wisconsin, why many of my fellow reform-minded governors are here in the state of Wisconsin helping us out, is they understand this is a sign about whether or not elected officials have the courage to take on these tough issues."

Republican governors like Chris Christie of New Jersey, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana have all visited the Badger State to boost Walker's chances, but Barrett received some help of his own last Friday when a bigger political star than any of the GOP politicians came to Milwaukee on his behalf: former President Bill Clinton, who told voters that they faced a choice between "people who want to work together to solve problems and people who want to divide and conquer."

While the recall election may foreshadow what lies ahead this fall when Obama and Romney duke it out, neither of them came to Wisconsin to support Barrett or Walker.

Walker claimed Monday that Obama's decision not to help the Barrett campaign in Wisconsin was "a sign there is real concern" within the White House about Barrett's chances.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that the Wisconsin race is "unique" and Obama has outlined where he stands.

"The fact is the president has made clear all along his opposition to those who would take away workers' rights, to actions that would take away or diminish workers' rights. And he's also made clear his support for Tom Barrett," Carney said.

Although Obama and Romney stayed away from Wisconsin, money has poured in from across the country. A whopping $62 million has been spent on the race, with most of it coming from outside the state.

"This is Wisconsin values versus outside influence," Barrett argued on Sunday.

Barrett has trailed Walker in most polls taken over the past few weeks.

A survey of likely voters conducted by Marquette University Law School from May 23 to 26 showed Walker with a 52 percent to 45 percent lead over Barrett. However, some more recent polls have revealed a closer race. One poll showed Walker ahead among men, whites, seniors and suburban Milwaukee residents, but Barrett up among women, minorities, younger voters and independents.

However, surveys show that Republicans are more enthusiastic about the race than Democrats are. According to the Marquette poll, 92 percent of Republicans said they are "absolutely certain to vote" on Tuesday, compared to only 77 percent of Democrats.

Record turnout is predicted, with 60 to 65 percent of voting-age adults in the state expected to head to the polls.

Players from the Green Bay Packers are even helping to get out the vote. The team's tight end Jermichael Finley sent out a tweet on Monday saying, "I'm proud to be a union worker. Support Wisconsin workers & Get Out the Vote on [Tuesday]."

Wisconsin has never recalled a governor -- and only two governors have ever been booted in the nation's history -- but Barrett contends that Walker's actions against organized labor justify the attempt to kick him out of office.

"This is a rare instance," Barrett said Sunday on CNN. "You have a governor who did not campaign at all about having an attack on workers."

If Walker manages to emerge victorious, it would be a big boost to Republicans in a state that has traditionally voted Democratic. However, Obama won Wisconsin by nearly 15 percent in 2008 and, according to the Marquette poll, the president enjoys 51 percent support among likely Badger State voters, compared to 43 percent for Romney.

Polls close at 9 p.m. ET today, but due to the anticipated closeness of the race, a winner may not be projected until later in the evening.

Matthew Jaffe covers the 2012 campaign for ABC News and Univision.