Wisconsin Democrats Face Hurdles Ahead Of Recall

With just under two weeks to go until the recall election in Wisconsin, Democrats appear to be facing rising odds in their quest to unseat Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

The race is still competitive, but Walker, 44, appears to have an edge in fundraising, recent polls and party enthusiasm in his challenge from Democratic candidate Tom Barrett.

"I think it's still competitive, I think there's still a chance for Barrett to win. But right now most of the forces are pushing in favor of Walker," said Barry Burden, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Democrats face a large fundraising disadvantage in the state, as Walker has pulled in over $25 million in fundraising since the recall efforts first began.

The reason for Walker's fundraising advantage is two-fold. First, Walker benefited from a quirk in Wisconsin state election law which allowed him to raise unlimited funds beginning in early November when a recall committee first registered with the state's accountability board, through the time when the board certified the recall election on March 30. Second, Democratic fundraising was split as a result of a hard fought primary between top officials in the state.

The Democratic primary was mostly contained to Barrett and former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk. Although Barrett, 58, eventually defeated Falk by more than 20 points in the primary, Falk was seen as the preferred candidate for many labor unions, the original driving force behind the recall. Barrett and Falk split the fundraising support, with Falk receiving the majority of union donations.

Walker had the backing of the Republican Governor's Association, the committee which oversees gubernatorial races, since the signatures were first turned in back in January. The Democratic Governor's Association stayed neutral during their party's primary.

By the time Barrett won the nomination, Walker enjoyed a 25 to 1 fundraising advantage over the Milwaukee mayor, with just four weeks until the election, according to figures from the non-partisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. The party has since rallied around Barrett, and the DGA is running ads on his behalf (they've spent about $2 million in the state, compared to the RGA's $5 million) but time is simply not on the Democrats side.

Another development in the race which likely has not helped the Barrett campaign's wallet is Democratic National Committee's apparent absence in the recall. The committee only recently announced its plans to get involved.

Last week, DNC Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced her plans to visit Wisconsin and assist in Barrett's guberntorial bid.

The announcement came after reports emerged that the state Democratic Party was upset with the national committee's  lack of involvement, and a petition had been launched calling on the DNC to provide financial support to Democrats in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Democrats point to the large ground operation they have been putting into place, which they hope will help to balance out the fundraising advantage on the Republican side.

"We have been building a massive get out the vote operation," said Mike Tate, chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. "We're going to be putting together a get out the vote operation that rivals what the Obama campaign did here in 2008."

The  latest polling from Marquette Law School showed Walker with a six point lead among likely voters over Barrett- 50 percent to 44 percent- outside of the polls margin of error of +/- 3.8 percent.

Republicans appear to have an enthusiasm advantage over Democrats in the recall as well, polling indicates. According to Marquette Law School polling, 91 percent of Republicans say they're "absolutely certain" to vote on June 5, while only 83 percent of Democrats and Independents responded the same way.

Democratic officials in the state point out that the polling was conducted May 9-12, just days after Barrett won his party's nomination on May 8. In the time since the primary, Barrett has gained ground in fundraising and spending.

"The public polls that came out last week were actually from two weeks ago. A lot has happened since that time," said Tate. "Last week was the first time when we'd been at spending parity with Walker and his allies."

Republicans are also focused on their ground strategy.

"We're not taking anything for granted, and we're focused on running an aggressive grassroots campaign," said Ben Sparks, spokesman for the Republican Party of Wisconsin.

The election is likely to come down to turnout.

"There are a small number of truly undecided voters who will vote in June and so both campaigns will bid for them as they should. But there aren't many of those voters," said Burden. "This is primarily going to be a test of the turnout machine that both parties are able to put together."