Talk Of Union Rights Fades In Wis. Recall Election

fromWPR

The long march to recall Governor Scott Walker is nearing its end, with Walker leading slightly in the polls and by a large margin in TV spending. The original dispute has turned into a broader gubernatorial election fight.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

There's just a week to go before Wisconsin holds a recall election for governor, only the third in U.S. history. Republican incumbent Scott Walker faces Democrat Tom Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee. And while Democrats forced this election, it's Barrett who finds himself playing catch-up. Wisconsin public radio's Shawn Johnson has the story.

MAYOR TOM BARRETT: Hey, folks. Just want to say hello. I'm Tom Barrett. I'm running for governor.

SHAWN JOHNSON, BYLINE: As musical blares from three stages at Madison's Brat Fest on Memorial Day weekend, Democrat Tom Barrett is going table to table saying hi to everyone that includes kids who are too young to vote for him.

BARRETT: Hello, sir. Can you give me five? I love your glasses, man. I love your glasses.

JOHNSON: It includes adults who won't vote for him.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I know you are, and I'm voting for your opponent.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BARRETT: OK. Well, nice to meet you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BARRETT: Tell him off. He's drinking too much.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON: And it includes a lot of people who voted for Barrett when he ran for governor the first time.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hi, Tom.

BARRETT: Nice to meet you.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You have my vote again.

BARRETT: OK. Thank you very, very much. I appreciate that. Nice to see you.

JOHNSON: This is Barrett's way of drawing a contrast with Governor Scott Walker.

BARRETT: I don't think he could come to an event like this without having people be very angry with him because of the steps that he's taken.

JOHNSON: Democrats first started mulling the idea of a recall early last year after Walker introduced his bill that all but eliminated public sector collective bargaining laws. The surprise move sparked weeks of massive protests. But as the recall election draws near, Barrett wants voters to focus on something else: a criminal investigation into several former aides who worked with Walker when he was Milwaukee County executive.

Barrett says Walker should release any emails connected to the probe and tell voters who's paying for his lawyers.

BARRETT: He wants us to trust him on Election Day, but he won't trust us with this information that's really pretty basic information.

JOHNSON: When Governor Walker speaks these days, he does not take a lot of chances. At one recent rally, in the highly Republican suburb of Waukesha, the crowd is packed with supporters who've come to hear him lay into Barrett.

GOVERNOR SCOTT WALKER REPUBLICAN, WISCONSIN: It's hard to figure out what this election is about if you listen to our opponents, right, because it keeps changing. I mean, originally, it was about the reforms, right? But they don't talk about it anymore. Why? Because it's working.

JOHNSON: Walker has also moved beyond the original labor issues in recent days, talking about employment, poverty and crime statistics in Milwaukee while Barrett's been mayor.

WISCONSIN: I think it's time he focused on fixing Milwaukee not trying to screw up the rest of the state.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

JOHNSON: The Republicans in this room are wild about their governor. Mary Pyasek(ph) voted for Walker the first time and views this recall as an attempt to take that vote away.

MARY PYASEK: He's taken charge, no-nonsense, and I am sick of having my vote disenfranchised from 2010.

JOHNSON: Walker backer Ken Milton says he knows the polls all show Walker ahead, but...

KEN MILTON: No. Polls aren't elections. So I think we all know that we got to keep after it.

JOHNSON: If there are undecided voters left in Wisconsin, they're getting lots of help making up their minds as TV ads crowd the airwaves. So far, Republicans have dominated, says Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a group that tracks campaign spending.

MIKE MCCABE: Bottom line is that Republican groups came in much earlier, spent much more heavily and don't show any signs of letting up.

JOHNSON: McCabe expects Democrats could spend as much as Republicans in the closing weeks of the campaign. But McCabe says they won't close the gap. They're being outspent three to one. For NPR News, I'm Shawn Johnson in Madison.

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