Wis. Dems tout records on eve of recall primary

May 7, 2012 - 4:57 PM

KENOSHA, Wis. (AP) — The leading Democratic candidates in the race to take on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in a historic recall election made their final pitches to voters Monday, touting their records while steering clear of any last-minute attacks on each other or the first-term Republican governor.

Walker, who faces only token opposition in Tuesday's primary, wasn't campaigning on Monday. He had a full slate of events on Tuesday, culminating with a speech to party faithful in a Republican stronghold near Milwaukee.

Walker has emerged as a national conservative hero since his successful push to end nearly all collective bargaining rights for most state workers. So far, the Democratic primary has been mostly devoid of internal attacks, with the candidates, led by front-runner Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, instead looking ahead to Walker and the June 5 general election.

It's only the third gubernatorial recall election in U.S. history. Governors were recalled from office in North Dakota in 1921 and in California in 2003.

Polls, including one from Marquette University released just last week, have consistently shown Barrett in the lead in the Democratic primary over Kathleen Falk, the former Dane County executive. Walker himself released a new television ad Monday directed solely at Barrett.

Barrett stopped at diners in Sheboygan and Kenosha on Monday, where he shook hands with customers and urged them to vote for him. At the Gateway Cafe in Kenosha, Barrett made small talk with patrons.

"Don't forget to vote tomorrow," he told Marcia Christenbury, 70, a retired assembly worker.

"I already voted for you" by absentee ballot, she replied with a smile. "Good luck!"

Though Barrett has led in polls and has backing from leading Democrats, Falk has been the favored candidate of the major unions that spurred the recall against Walker, including the statewide teachers union and the AFL-CIO.

Falk campaigned Monday in Barrett's backyard, shaking hands with students eating lunch at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She stuck to her core campaign themes that she has the best record to go up against Walker and has the grass-roots movement to deliver the votes.

"I've got that big coalition that it takes to go to get the job done in the next 28 days," she told reporters.

For his part, Walker has shattered Wisconsin campaign finance records, raising $25 million as he tries to keep his job. About two-thirds of what Walker raised came from outside the state.

While the union fight spurred the recall, the campaign has been much broader and focused largely on Wisconsin's economy, including Walker's 2010 campaign pledge to create 250,000 jobs over four years. Though the state's unemployment rate is at its lowest level since 2008, Wisconsin lost more jobs than any other state between March 2011 and March 2012. Since Walker took office 16 months ago, only 5,900 private sector jobs have been created.

Barrett, who lost to Walker by 5 points in 2010, is hoping for a chance at a rematch.

Two other Democrats in the race, Secretary of State Doug La Follette and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, ran much more low-profile campaigns and failed to gain traction with voters. La Follette said he was spending Monday posting messages on Facebook urging people to vote for him.

"I am relying on the people who stood in the cold and rain and made this recall possible for their support," La Follette wrote.

Vinehout planned a get-out-the-vote drive in the tiny village of Hixton, Wis., not far from the Minnesota border.

Walker faces token opposition in the primary from Arthur Kohl-Riggs, a Walker opponent who says he is running as a Republican in the tradition of Abraham Lincoln and Bob La Follette.

Gladys Huber, a Republican, is also on the ballot on the Democratic side.

Turnout for the primary was predicted at between 30 percent and 35 percent of eligible voters, which would be the highest for a primary in a governor's race since 38.9 percent in 1952.

Erik Dahlberg, a 51-year-old investment adviser from Beloit, called the recall process a "sham" and said he planned to vote for Walker. If people don't like Walker's policies, they should vote him out in 2014, Dahlberg said.

"He deserves the four years he earned," Dahlberg said of Walker. "We run the guy out of office for doing what he said he'd do? He didn't rob a bank. ... Be reasonable. I just think the political process should be allowed to work."

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Associated Press writer Todd Richmond contributed to this report from Janesville, Wis. Bauer reported from Madison, Wis.