In an election that has national implications, Wisconsin Democratic primary candidates are focused on defeating each other instead of Republican Governor Scott Walker.
Support for Wisconsin Democrats hoping to defeat Walker in a June recall election has splintered behind four relatively unknown candidates in a short primary that is turning ugly. The primary election is looming less than a month away and many Democratic Party insiders fear a nasty primary fight could hurt their candidate’s chances when voters go to the polls to elect a governor on June 5.
While voters’ opinions vary widely regarding Governor Scott Walker, he has 97-percent name recognition.
Public union bosses made their bed early by courting former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk with nearly $2 million. The move has angered many public-sector union members and appeased others. Falk was endorsed by the Wisconsin Education Association Council and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, and a few private-sector unions.
More recently, Falk seems to have cornered support from another big union boss.
“After careful consideration and discussion with all recall candidates, the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO has endorsed Kathleen Falk for Governor,” said state AFL-CIO president Phil Neuenfeldt, in a recent press release.
Falk has little name recognition in the state but promised to veto any state budget that doesn't restore union collective bargaining provisions repealed by legislators under Governor Walker.
Meanwhile, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democratic nominee for governor who lost his last election race against Scott Walker, remains the Democrats’ most viable candidate according to most polls. As Mayor, Barrett feuded with city public employee union leadership however he has accumulated some prominent political endorsements including those of U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, former U.S. Rep. David Obey, former Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton and several state lawmakers. Barrett lost in a state gubernatorial primary in 2002. Barrett and Falk are considered the two Democratic front runners so far.
"Given the personalities of the two front-runners, and the people who are supporting them, I think there is a good chance that this could turn ugly fast and really hurt the Democrats' chances in the general election," said Joe Heim, a UW-La Crosse political scientist quoted in a recent Wisconsin State Journal article.
Trailing Barrett and Falk in most polls are Secretary of State Doug La Follette and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma.
Tuesday, Arthur Kohl-Riggs of Madison and Michael Mangan of West Allis filed to run against Walker in the Republican primary. Hari Trivedi, an Independent from Brookfield, also filed to get on the ballot. Four candidates are running for Wisconsin lieutenant governor: Bruce Berman, of Marinette, Mahlon Mitchell of Fitchburg, Dale Paul of Portage and Ira Robins of Milwaukee.
Nationally, Democrats have staked a great deal on the Wisconsin recall election that culminated after Governor Walker signed legislation last year with provisions that limit collective bargaining by unions. Union and other protestors trashed the Wisconsin capital during long-running and often boisterous protests that were heavily broadcast by national media.
For his part, Walker has stood by his decision as being necessary to harness projected budget deficits and to force union members to pay something into their own retirement pensions. Many Wisconsin public employees paid little if anything toward their pensions until last year.
However the financial crisis of 2008 wiped out years of stock market gains worldwide and delivered a 26% loss to the investments that support the state’s pension system.