Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett may have defeated former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk in Tuesday’s recall primary for the Democratic nomination for governor, but he will face his final challenge in the general election against Gov. Scott Walker June 5.
While Walker has the advantage of incumbency, University of Wisconsin professor Dietram Scheufele, an expert in public opinion and election campaigns, said Barrett and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin have already taken the necessary first steps toward a successful election in June.
“In many ways they’ve already taken the first step by making it very clear that the folks who have lost in the primary [Tuesday] are behind Barrett … and there is a joined attempt to challenge Walker,” Scheufele said.
Executive Director of Common Cause in Wisconsin Jay Heck said he does not think the recall primary has divided the Democratic Party. He said Falk did not run negative television advertisements, nor did the unions who also ran television commercials.
He said since Falk did not produce negative ads, this would ensure a seamless transition to supporting Barrett. He added Secretary of State Doug La Follette and Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, have already backed Barrett.
“The specter of Scott Walker winning is more frightening to backers of Falk, Vinehout and La Follette, so they will unite,” Heck said.
Walker has already raised more than $25 million for his campaign, and has significantly out-fundraised Barrett, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign finance database.
Barrett has argued that, unlike Walker, he has not made efforts to raise out-of-state money, Scheufele said, but he will still need a well-financed campaign in order to defeat Walker.
The biggest challenge facing Barrett is time, he added. With the election in less than three weeks Barrett is going to have to quickly narrow his message and instill confidence among Wisconsin voters in order to beat Walker and to represent those constituencies who currently have grievances with the governor.
One of the most important tasks for Barrett in the next few weeks will be ensuring high voter turnout, Scheufele said. Whether he raises money through grassroots or advertisements, getting voters out to the polls will prove key.
Using the 2004 presidential race as an example, Scheufele said former President George W. Bush did not win re-election by convincing Americans he had made optimal decisions, but instead by focusing on bringing out conservative voters in Ohio and Florida.
“If Barrett wins this election, his victory will be based on turnout,” Scheufele said.
Heck also said the result of the recall election will depend on voter turnout. He said Walker has spent a lot of money on ads on many television stations to paint Barrett as “ruining” Milwaukee. However, he said Falk has been the only Democratic gubernatorial candidate to run a number of ads, while the Democrats and Barrett have not begun serious campaigning.
Heck said the battle will be won over the undecided voters and the biggest challenge for the Democratic Party will be getting students out to vote, as many students will head home or out of state by the June 5 election.