An interesting thing happened in the Wisconsin recall primary yesterday: Governor Scott Walker received more votes than Tom Barrett and Kathleen Falk combined, the two leading Democrats fighting to challeng him on June 5. Walker won the votes of 626,538 Wisconsinites, despite the fact that he had only token opposition. The two leading Democrats together had 619,049 votes.
It’s just not normal in politics for a major incumbent with token opposition to generate turnout on a par with a heavily contested race in the other party. It was an unexpected turnout bomb, a demonstration of Walker’s greatest political asset, even greater than his considerable money advantage -- the ability to mobilize his base.
What makes the Walker vote total even more remarkable is that neither his campaign nor Wisconsin Republicans did much to get voters to the polls. Walker’s campaign sent one email and, in interviews on local talk radio, the governor urged his supporters to vote. But in contrast to Democrats, who spent heavily in the primary and had active get out the vote operations, Wisconsin Republicans did very little.
How significant is this? The estimable Sean Trende, of RealClearPolitics, says it’s “interesting” but cautions against reading too much into the result. I’d go a little further: While it doesn’t meant that Republicans will win in a month, it does suggest that whatever election fatigue exists among Republicans in Wisconsin, there is a huge group of highly motivated activists who are willing to go to the polls even for a symbolic show of support for Walker.
Will that translate into four weeks of hard work on behalf of their governor before June 5? It’s impossible to say for sure. But it’s a better bet than it was on Monday.
It’ll be interesting to watch how Wisconsin public employee unions, who backed Falk in the primary, turn their support to Barrett. Several local unions have put out statements embracing Barrett and promising to work hard for him. But there’s still some awkwardness there. Consider this video AFSCME distributed on Barrett just one month ago, accusing Barrett of holding positions that were virtually indistinguishable from Walker’s: