(WBEN/AP) - The vote will bring to a conclusion more than a year of turmoil in Wisconsin after Walker pushed through a bill stripping workers of collective bargaining rights in an effort to fix a hole in the state budget motivating AFL-CIO councils from across the country to bus in campaign workers, while TeaParty groups coalesce around Walker's campaign.
Locally, the AFL-CIO Buffalo Labor Council has sent about 230 workers to Wisconsin. At least one of the local Tea Party groups has a handful of workers there, and many more working off online voter lists to make phone calls on their personal lines.
"This is just an outright attack on collective bargaining and it's not something that any union is going to stand for at this time,"
-- Michael Hoffert, Buffalo Area AFL-CIO Labor Council
"I don't think it is do or die, but it would be an absolute crucial victory as far as we are concerned. We are looking at this as the possiblity of being a mandate for the country,"
-- Rus Thompson, TEA New York
Polls have shown Walker, just 17 months into his term, with a small lead over Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett after a campaign that's shattered state spending records and further divided an already polarized state. Both candidates worked in a flurry of last-minute stops in the campaign's final days, all too aware turnout will be critical.
"I've been villainized for a year and a half. We've faced a year and a half of assaults on us. My opponent has no plans other than to attack us," Walker said at a campaign stop Monday, claiming that his agenda has put the state on the right economic track.
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Walker said he was focused on capturing voters who have supported him in taking on public-employee unions, while Barrett sought to capitalize on the anger over Walker's conservative agenda that began building almost as soon as he took office in January 2011.
"Gov. Walker has divided the state but we will never allow him to conquer the middle class," Barrett said at an afternoon appearance. He added: "This started out as a grassroots movement and it's going to end as one."
What to know about the Wisconsin recall
A: The recall effort was born Feb. 11, 2011. That was when Walker released his plan to address a state budget shortfall that called on most public workers to pay more for health insurance and pension benefits, and, most important, give up nearly all their collective bargaining rights. The proposal set the recall fire, led to protests that lasted weeks and grew as large as 100,000 people. It motivated 14 Senate Democrats to flee the state for three weeks in a vain attempt to stop the bill. Walker signed it into law March 11 virtually unchanged from how he proposed it.
Q: Isn't this unusual? How often do governors face recalls?
A: This is the third recall election of a governor in U.S. history. The other two were successful in throwing the incumbent out of office - against California Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 and North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier in 1921.
Q: If there's an effort to kick Walker out of office, does that mean his approval rating is low?
A: The recall is more a result of how divided the state is over Walker and his policies. His approval rating among Wisconsin respondents in the most recent Marquette University Law School poll was 51 percent, just 1 percentage point less than President Barack Obama's.
Q: Who's footing the bill for the recall campaigns? Taxpayers? Or someone else?
A: There has been much ado about all the campaign money flowing into Wisconsin from out of state, and for good reason. The recall election has been unlike anything seen before in Wisconsin, with at least $62 million spent by the candidates and outside groups so far. Walker was the top spender at $29 million, with Democrats including Barrett spending about $4 million. Outside groups have spent $21 million and issue ad groups that don't have to disclose their spending have put in at least $7.5 million. That, of course, is donated money. Taxpayers are anything but off the hook. The recall and a primary for it are special elections that otherwise would not be held. State elections officials estimate the cost of a statewide election to taxpayers is $9 million, for a total of $18 million.
Q: How has the economy played into the campaign? What are the candidates pledging to do to create jobs?
A: The recall may have started over collective bargaining, but the overriding issue has become job creation. Walker promised in 2010 to create 250,000 jobs over four years and he is not on pace to meet that goal. How far afield he is depends on what set of numbers are used to measure his promise. Monthly jobs figures, based on a survey of about 3.5 percent of Wisconsin employers, show job creation is flat since Walker took office. But a combination of data, including 2011 numbers derived from a more comprehensive census of employers, shows about 33,000 new jobs have been created in Walker's term.
Barrett, meanwhile, has been more vague, something Walker has used against him. Barrett has said he will adopt a comprehensive jobs agenda that emphasizes manufacturing, small business, clean energy, venture capital, high-tech and bio tech and our agricultural rural economy. He has criticized Walker for making jobs secondary to attacks on public employee unions.
Q: Is Walker the only politician on the ballot facing a recall? What about people who supported him?
A: The Walker-Barrett race is in the national spotlight for obvious reasons, but also on the ballot are recall elections for GOP Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who faces Democrat Mahlon Mitchell, and four GOP state Senate seats. If Democrats can win any one of those seats, they will hold a majority in the Senate for the first time since 2010 and could obstruct any further advancement of Walker's agenda if he wins.
Q. If someone does not like the results, can there be another recall?
A. Wisconsin law allows for recalls of anyone who has been in office for at least a year. The winner will serve the remainder of Walker's current term, which runs through 2014. Office holders can only stand for recall once per term, so if Walker wins he will remain in office at least through 2014.
Q. Will turnout be an indicator of an outcome?
A. Turnout is key for both Walker and Barrett in a race that polls show has few undecided voters. Walker must pull strongly from Republican parts of the state, primarily in the conservative Milwaukee suburbs. Barrett needs to do well with his base in Madison and Milwaukee and keep Walker's margin of victory low in the Republican-leaning Fox Valley area around Green Bay. The election, if it's close, could be won or lost based on how well the candidates do in western Wisconsin in swing counties along the Mississippi border, as well as other swing parts of the state like in Racine County south of Milwaukee.
Q. What happens Wednesday?
A. If Walker wins the recall, little will change. He will remain governor, and Barrett will remain mayor of Milwaukee. However, if Barrett wins, Walker will remain in office for only a short time. The state elections board has just 18 days to issue a certificate declaring the election results official. When that's done, he is no longer governor.
The recall effort against Walker began bubbling last year, shortly after the rising Republican star took office. Just a month into his first term, Walker took the state by surprise with a proposal to effectively end collective bargaining rights for most state workers and pay more for health insurance and pension benefits as a tactic to deal with the state's budget shortfall. The proposal created a firestorm of opposition, and protests drew tens of thousands to the state Capitol.
It didn't take long for opponents to begin calling for a recall.
The recall petition drive couldn't officially start until November, months after Walker signed the union changes into the books, because Wisconsin law requires that someone must be in office for at least a year before facing recall. Organizers hit the streets a week before Thanksgiving and spent two months gathering more than 900,000 signatures - about 360,000 more than were needed to trigger the election. Barrett was chosen as Walker's opponent in a primary last month.
Now, Walker stands in unique company: He is only the third governor in U.S. history to face a recall vote. The other two lost, most recently California Gov. Gray Davis in 2003.
Wisconsin's recall election is a rematch of the 2010 governor's race in which Walker defeated Barrett by 5 percentage points. A key question will be whether or not Democrats can turn out voters in force, as the unions did during the protests last year. Polls show there are few undecided voters; if it's close, it could come down to how well both do in swing counties in the western part of the state.
Many of those ballots have already been cast through absentee voting. Retired teacher Jan Stebbins cast her ballot early for Barrett, just as she did two years ago. She said she's been offended by Walker, not by what he's done but "how he's done it." Stebbins can't stand the division that's emerged during the past two years.
By Wednesday morning, she hopes the state "gets back to a little bit more unity," she said. "I don't know what will happen."
Todd Schober, a financial planner from Racine, voted for Walker in 2010 and planned to do so again Tuesday.
"I'm just going to be so glad when it's all over," he said.
Walker, the 44-year-old son of a minister, has remained unflappable throughout the campaign just as he was during the massive protests that raged at the Statehouse for weeks as lawmakers debated his proposal. Along the way, he's become a star among Republicans and the most successful fundraiser in Wisconsin politics, collecting at least $31 million from around the country since taking office. That obliterated his fundraising record of $11 million from 2010.
Much of the money for the race has come from out of state. About $63 million has been spent on the race so far, including $16 million from conservative groups such as the Republican Governors Association, Americans for Prosperity and the National Rifle Association. The majority of Walker's donations are from people outside Wisconsin.
Democratic groups - including those funded by unions, the Democratic Governors Association and the Democratic National Committee - have poured in about $14 million, based on a tally from the government watchdog group the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. Barrett's $4.2 million in donations, meanwhile, were mostly from inside Wisconsin.
The race has attracted some big names on both sides. Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie appeared on behalf of Walker, while former President Bill Clinton came out for Barrett in the race's final days. Notably absent was President Barack Obama. White House press secretary Jay Carney was asked during a briefing Monday why Obama wasn't campaigning in Wisconsin for Barrett.
"The president supports him, stands by him," Carney said, adding that Obama hopes Barrett prevails.
The president himself took to the social media micro-blogging site Twitter late Monday to send much the same message.
"It's Election Day in Wisconsin tomorrow," Obama tweeted, "and I'm standing by Tom Barrett. He'd make an outstanding governor. -bo"
Walker won't be the only politician up for recall Tuesday. His lieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch, and three Republican state senators also face recall votes Tuesday. A fourth state Senate seat will be determined after the Republican incumbent resigned rather than face the recall.
The recall will have implications for both labor unions and the presidential race in November. Labor unions have a lot at stake because they pushed so hard to force a recall. But when it comes to the presidential race, exactly what those implications are is unclear.
Republicans are hopeful a Walker win will pave the way for Mitt Romney to win Wisconsin, making him the first GOP candidate to carry the state since Ronald Reagan in 1984. If Walker loses, most agree Obama will have an edge. Either way, the state is likely to remain in play.
In the divided state, though, many are just ready for the seemingly endless campaigning to end. For months, voters have been inundated with telephone calls, campaign mail and television advertising. Barrett supporter John Oehrke is ready to be done.
"It doesn't really matter who wins I guess," Oehrke said. "It's all crazy."