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Democracy in Wisconsin: With GOP Campaigning for Fake Democrats, Here Are 4 Scenarios for Today's Recall Election Primaries | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Democracy in Wisconsin: With GOP Campaigning for Fake Democrats, Here Are 4 Scenarios for Today's Recall Election Primaries

From the start of the fight against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s assault on labor rights, local democracy, public schools and social services, the political strategy has been to recall at least three Republican state senators and flip control of that legislative chamber to the Democrats.

That would create a legislative check and balance on Walker and radically shift the political dynamic in the state that has become ground zero in the fight not just to defend unions in Wisconsin but to challenge the GOP austerity push nationwide.

The six Democratic primaries being held today in Wisconsin state Senate districts begin the recall voting process that will play out on four separate election dates. The schedule starts with Tuesday’s primaries to nominate Democratic challengers to Republican senators who backed Republican Governor Scott Walker’s anti-labor agenda. Next week, Republican challengers will be chosen for two Democratic senators who have been forced into recall fights, and a third Democratic senator (Dave Hansen of Green Bay) will face a partisan runoff with a weak Republican challenger. On August 9, there will be partisan runoffs for the six Republican-held seats. On August 16, there will be partisan runoffs for the two Democratic seats.

It all adds up to one of the most remarkable tests of a sitting governor’s agenda—and political staying power—ever initiated in the first year of the executive’s four-year term.

Yet, today’s primaries are an odd start to the process, as they were forced by a Republican strategy to run “fake Democrats” against the “real Democrats” who were recuited by and are supported by Democratic Party leaders and unions. Wisconsin has open primaries, however, so Republicans can vote in Democratic primaries (and vice versa). That means that Republicans could cross over and try to nominate a “fake Democrat.” 

Confirmation came this morning that Republicans have invested in "robo-calls" and other tools to get conservatives to cross over and vote in the Democratic primaries. How extensive the campaign will be remains to be seen.

By the same token, the primaries give Democrats a chance to flex their muscles.

Here are four election-night scenarios to consider:

1. Worst-Case Scenario for Democrats

One of the “fake Democrats” beats a real Democrat. This would be a dramatic setback and would significantly lessen prospects for flipping control of the Senate.

It is not just that one of the prospectiive races is lost. The blow would be felt across the state.

This only happens if the GOP has an elaborate stealth campaign running. I don’t see it at this point, but they have not exactly played by the rules up to this point.

2. Bad Scenario for Democrats

All the “real Democrats” win, but their numbers are just so-so. Some of the “fake Democrats get into the thirties and a credible case can be made that the Democrats are weak and the Republicans are more energized than was imagined.

Frankly, if there is a lot of GOP crossover, it suggests that conservatives are highly motivated. That bodes well for them in the August runoffs, although it is not definitional.

3. Good Scenario for Democrats

“Real Democrats” win all the races by decent margins. But turnout is not particularly high. This would suggest that “core” Democrats and their allies are motivated but that the broader voting populous is not. Numbers of this sort are not a disaster, but they will be read by GOP strategists as an argument for stepping up their work heading into August —on the theory that relatively low Democratic turnout can be countered.

But Democrats will also have something significant to crow about. They will have finished Step Two of the recall process without a hitch. (Step One was qualifying the recalls, Step Two is the primaries, Step Three is the partisan runoffs in August.)

4. Best-Case Scenario for Democrats

All the “real Democrats” win by wide margins and turnouts are high. This suggests that progressives are highly motivated and ready to follow through on the recall fight. It also suggests that Republicans are not organizing aggressively or effectively.

This signals that the overall Democratic strategy is not just in play but that it is working. Democrats are energized for the August races, while Republicans—despite whatever official bravado they may muster—will know they are in a serious fight that could cost them the Senate and across-the-board control of Wisconsin.

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