Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett won a sweeping victory in the primary to choose a Democratic nominee to oppose anti-labor Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin’s June 5 recall election. And, despite $21 million in spending and a concerted effort by the embattled governor, the state Republican Party and conservative talk radio hosts to run up his GOP primary numbers, Walker’s total fell far short of the combined Democratic total.
Barrett, the 2010 Democratic gubernatorial nominee who entered the race late—and who was significantly outspent by another Democrat, former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, and her allies—won by a far wider margin than even his most enthusiastic backers would have dared predict. The mayor took 58 percent of the vote to 34 percent for Falk, while state Senator Kathleen Vinehout won 4 percent and Secretary of State Doug La Follette was at 3 percent.
Barrett won fifty-six of Wisconsin’s seventy-two counties, including Falk’s home base of Dane County, which includes the state capitol in Madison. Most of Falk’s win’s came in sparsely populated northern Wisconsin counties. Despite the fact that she had secured endorsements from many of the state’s largest unions, Barrett won traditional labor strongholds (such as Rock, Racine, Kenosha, Manitowioc, Sheboygan and Brown counties) in the southern and eastern regions of the state.
Falk’s endorsement of Barrett was gracious, unequivocal and immediate, putting to rest most questions about whether Democrats would unify following the primary. And Barrett predicted Tuesday night at a packed Milwaukee victory party (where leaders of the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees and other unions joined the cheering throngs) that: “We will be united because we understand we cannot fix Wisconsin as long as Scott Walker is the governor of this state.”
If Democrats remain unified, they are well positioned for the four-week fight preceding the June 5 general election —which will also see a Democratic challenge to Republican incumbents for the post of lieutenant governor and for four state Senate seats.
Walker had pulled out all the stops seeking to run up his Republican primary total, spending heavily on television and direct mail, making dozens of official and campaign stops across the state in the days prior to the primary and devoting hours of his time Tuesday to get-out-the-vote appearances on right-wing talk radio programs in Milwaukee, Madison and across the state. The hope was that he could gain a higher vote total than the Democrats—and with it bragging rights going into an intense general election campaign with Barrett.