In a little more than a week, Wisconsin will have the electoral climax that has been building since the 2010 election of its Republican governor, Scott Walker. Walker's opponents gained the necessary signatures for an unusual recall election, and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett won nomination to run against Walker.
Walker's recall is not because of misconduct in office, but because his politics don't suit a large number of Wisconsinites--and not just a little, they really hate them. Basically, he has taken on the public unions and tried to break them, something he promised in his 2010 campaign. Progressive forces from inside the state have appealed to national forces--particularly labor unions, but also political action committees--to take on Walker, and the battle has been joined, virtually continuously, for some 18 months now. (See my post from February, 2011--little has changed except the position on the timeline.)
A week from Tuesday, Walker's fate as governor--whether he can complete his term, or be removed from office immediately--will be determined. The race is very close, and there are very, very few undecided voters. Recent polls generally show Walker leading Barrett, but usually within the margin of error. In this battle, Wisconsin's politics have become the most polarized of any state's. The result will depend on the ability of the two competing forces to turn out their supporters at the polls. Or to somehow suppress their opponents' supporters: the Republicans' camp has tried both to make voting more difficult in Wisconsin, and to bury undecided voters with TV ads.
The Democrats' forces have behaved somewhat curiously in the short campaign since the primary, just a month or so ago. There was some bitterness in the contest for the right to take on Walker, but generally the domestic forces have unified for the greater good. I have personally been deluged by appeals for money since then: the strange note was from some groups, like moveon.org or Daily Kos, to complain about the absence of support from the Democratic Governors' Association and the Democratic National Committee. Both of these groups have since come around and contributed, but it seems that they don't want to commit too much capital in this contest, one that may be a bit of an uphill battle. If it is so--and Intrade.com quotes the chances of Walker surviving the recall now at 93%, up from 80% or so a few weeks ago-- it is because the Republicans have so much more money, and that they are extremely fired up.
The big question is whether President Obama will make an appearance to help motivate the Democratic ground forces for a final push in these days. If the calculation is that the President does not want to further inflame an already heated political environment, I think that is a mistaken one. Everyone should realize that this is not going to die down after the recall vote, and that the winning party is going to have great momentum going into the general election. Wisconsin has been going consistently Democratic in recent elections, but consistently very narrowly so. The loss of its 10 electoral votes from the Democratic column would be a serious blow in a Presidential race that is far from safe (there is also an open Senate seat, with the Democrats slight underdogs to hold onto it). Obama may lose some political face if he goes and Walker still wins, but he has more than face to lose next week.
I previously compared this contest to the Spanish Civil War, and how it both previewed World War II and allowed the forces to try out their weapons. The Fascist forces won the Civil War because their opponents were too disorganized and too outgunned; the Democrats should take heed.