Political analysts on the right and the left agree that the Wisconsin recall race between Republican Governor Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Tom Barrett is the most competitive gubernatorial race in the nation. Pundits on the left and the right agree that the Wisconsin fight—which targets a conservative governor who has brought an anti-labor, austerity agenda to an American state—is second only to the presidential race in importance.
But there is a dramatic difference in the intensity of commitment to the race by national Republicans and their conservative allies on one side and national Democrats and their allies on the other.
The Republicans aren’t holding anything back.
“We’re all in here,” says Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, a Wisconsinite whose name has turned up frequently in indictments of Walker aides targeted by a “John Doe” inquiry into felony violations of government ethics and campaign-finance laws. “We will be involved for as much as we need to be involved. We haven’t put a limit on the number.”
Priebus offers his “all in” commitment even though Walker’s campaign has a 25–1 financial advantage over Barrett. And that doesn’t even count the millions coming in from the Koch brothers and other national donors who are funding so-called “independent” expenditures on the governor’s behalf.
What is the Democratic National Committee offering in return? Not as much. While the Democratic Governors Association and some other groups with party ties have been supportive of the electoral fight in Wisconsin, the DNC has been slow on the draw. Even now, after much discussion of the DNC’s slow response, DNC chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz says only that she hopes to come to Wisconsin for a fundraising event. Translation: she will make an appearance in Wisconsin where Wisconsinites will be asked to give money to the DNC.
Needless to say, that’s not even a minimally equal level of commitment to the one made by Priebus and the RNC.
In fairness, Democrats do not have to equal the Republican level of engagement. They just have to be in the game.
That’s because Walker’s spending, while meaningful, can’t undo all the damage he has done to his own reputation.
Walker burned through $21 million between November and late April, yet his approval ratings—according to what’s generally seen as the most reliable Wisconsin poll, that of Marquette University’s Law School—have actually declined slightly since the start of the year.
Despite the spending of the better part of $30 million on pro-Walker and anti-Barrett messaging, the latest polls show a race where Walker still can’t get above 50 percent approval ratings or support levels.