For Wisconsin Voters, Recall Day Is Here

Republican Gov. Scott Walker faces Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in a recall election Tuesday that has attracted a lot of outside money. The attempt to remove Walker came after he successfully pushed to limit collective bargaining rights for public sector unions.

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And I'm Renee Montagne.

A bitter political battle in Wisconsin finally reaches the voters today, as Governor Scott Walker faces a recall election. The story started early last year when the newly-elected Republican governor began what would be a successful push to severely curtail the bargaining rights of public sector unions. Since then, it's been partisan warfare in Wisconsin, with outside money pouring into the state - mostly benefitting Walker - and with national labor organizations getting involved to stop what they see as a threat to their survival.

NPR's Don Gonyea reports on the final day of campaigning.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Here's the gubernatorial ballot for today's Wisconsin recall: Voters choose between keeping incumbent Republican Scott Walker or replacing him with the Democrat, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Last night, Barrett wrapped up a long day campaigning with a big Get Out the Vote rally at a UAW Hall in Kenosha, where he again accused Walker of dividing the state to pursue an ideological Tea Party agenda.

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MAYOR TOM BARRETT: He made it a division where neighbor couldn't talk to neighbor, where worker didn't want to talk to worker, where relatives couldn't talk to relatives because it was too bitterly divided. He started a civil war in this state that lasted 16 months, and tomorrow, were going to Scott Walker's civil war. That's what we're going to do tomorrow. That's what we're going to do tomorrow.

(APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: The recall is a much more intense version of the 2010 election in Wisconsin. Back then, it was also Walker-versus-Barrett for the governorship. The GOP also captured control of the state legislature that year.

At the union hall last night, UAW official John Drew said that defeat won't be repeated.

JOHN DREW: We have been knocking on doors all over Racine, all over Milwaukee. This is an unprecedented number of people who have been out helping. Some body - I was talking to a union leader from out of state this morning, and he says, well, how would you compare the level of activity to the 2010 election? I said there was an election in 2010?

(LAUGHTER)

GONYEA: Yesterday, Governor Walker's day consisted of a series of events that have become a signature for his campaign: visits to small factories. This is in Fitchburg, just before 9:00 am, at a company that makes small plastic cups for Jell-O pudding and other ready-to-eat foods. Walker noted it wasn't his first time here.

GOVERNOR SCOTT WALKER: We're pleased to be back to see their growth, and really, to hopefully be in a position to help them grow even more so in the future.

GONYEA: Recent polls do show Governor Walker ahead with a lead ranging from very narrow to double-digit.

WALKER: We're consciously optimistic. We're not overconfident. We understand that this is going to be a big vote turnout. We understand there's a lot of passion in this state from all different directions. We want to make sure we get our voters out, and we want to make sure we make as many last-minute appeals to undecided voters.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: 7:30 at Newsradio 620 WTMJ.

GONYEA: On AM radio in Wisconsin and all over TV, the advertisements are in heavy rotation. Some are paid for by campaigns, like this Barrett ad focusing on criminal charges brought against a man who was a top aide to Walker in his previous job as Milwaukee county executive.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Tim Russell was Scott Walker's deputy chief of staff, and Walker put him in charge of a charity named Operation Freedom. But prosecutors have indicted Tim Russell, saying he stole $20,000 from the charity.

GONYEA: The scope of the investigation goes beyond that one charity. Others have been charged, as well. Governor Walker himself has set up a legal defense fund. Barrett has been pressing that issue, asking why.

Then there are the pro-Walker ads, this one paid for by an outside group not connected to the campaign.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Get this: under Barrett, Milwaukee became one of America's 10 worst cities for unemployment. Yikes.

GONYEA: Outside the state Capitol building in Madison, anti-Walker protestors have gathered every weekday at noon since early last year for what they call a solidarity sing-along.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Walker won't be governor. Walker won't be governor.

GONYEA: Chris Reeder organizes the sing-alongs. His feeling now that recall day is finally here...

CHRIS REEDER: I am so anxious, I can hardly sleep. I can hardly eat. I'm so hopeful for tomorrow, and so terrified, as well.

GONYEA: But Reeder does predict victory for Tom Barrett.

Some five miles from the Capitol, at a state Republican Party phone bank, 19-year-old volunteer Tyler Kehoe predicts a Walker victory. But he said he can relate to that mix of fear and hope that Reeder mentioned.

TYLER KEHOE: I can see exactly where that person's coming from. It's always scary when you put a lot of time into something, and at the end, it would not come through.

GONYEA: And after that brief conversation, it's back to the phones to talk to more voters as the clock counts down.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Milwaukee.

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