News that Republicans will once again be running fake Democratic candidates in the upcoming recall primaries has been, unsurprisingly, met with cries of protest and outrage. Republicans say the candidates are merely being used to make sure that all of the general recall elections take place on the same day in June, rather than some being held earlier in May. While planting fake candidates may be a bit sleazy and underhanded, it certainly isn’t reason for outrage. Democrats have bigger fish to fry.
The point of these fake candidates, or “recall protest candidates” as Republicans are calling them (I mean, who actually knows what “recall protest candidate” means, anyway?), is to align all the general elections on the same day – not a terrible goal, in and of itself. Republicans worry that if some general primary elections for the state Senate don’t have contested primaries, then the election will be held on the same day as the gubernatorial primary. Since Democrats have an actually contested up-ticket candidate to vote for in the gubernatorial primary, it’s likely that Democrats would turn out in much higher numbers than Republicans, who would be voting for a down-ticket state Senate race. The irony here, of course, is that if Republicans are so worried about voter turnout, perhaps they should rethink their stance on the voter ID law.
Not helping his party’s case, State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, has suggested that Republicans could vote for whichever Democratic gubernatorial candidate they view as weaker in order to give Gov. Scott Walker a better chance in his recall election. Fitzgerald was quoted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as saying, “There’s nothing to keep the Republicans from messing around.” This tactic is far from new, having been used by supporters of both parties on numerous occasions, including the 2008 and 2012 presidential primaries.
Together, these actions don’t paint an overly pretty picture of Wisconsin Republicans. Even if it’s not uncommon, voting in the other party’s primary is never popular with the other side. Much of the outrage at these actions is largely manufactured. The main reason people are mad about Republicans running fake candidates is because it sounds really bad. There’s no way to spin it that doesn’t involve planting fake candidates in an election, regardless of the reason. However, it’s really not very damaging.
Thus, while it may be difficult for Democrats to let such a great messaging opportunity escape, they should take a couple shots at it and move on. What Republicans are doing isn’t exactly a model for ethical politics and not necessarily following the spirit of the law, but it is legal. Politics in Wisconsin are so polarized that a story like this isn’t going to change anyone’s mind. Rather than taking cheap shots at stories like these, Wisconsin Democrats should focus on the issues that matter and will help sway the independent voters who will actually decide the recalls. Walker has given Democrats plenty to campaign on – there’s no need to resort to petty issues like this.
Joe Timmerman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freshman majoring in math and economics.