I think a really underrated factor in why Democrats in Wisconsin came up just short of winning back the state Senate is because of that extra month on the schedule forced by the “spoiler candidates” put forward by state Republicans. The extra month did not only give Senate incumbents like Alberta Darling and Luther Olsen extra time to campaign and fundraise. It put the elections one more month removed from the outrage across Wisconsin over the theft of collective bargaining rights. Feelings have a way of fading gradually over time. And so an election in July may have had a different feel than an election in August.
That’s what I think is at work with these new numbers in Wisconsin on a potential recall of Governor Scott Walker:
Public sentiment in Wisconsin is moving against a recall of Scott Walker. Walker though remains very unpopular and if Russ Feingold chose to run against him in a recall election he would find himself in deep trouble.
50% of Wisconsin voters generally oppose a recall of Walker, compared to 47% in favor. Those numbers are flipped from our last statewide poll, in May, which found 50% generally in support of a recall and 47% in opposition. The overall switch comes because independents have moved from slightly in favor of removing Walker from office (50/47) to slightly opposed (46/50) and because 94% of Republicans now oppose recalling Walker, up from 89% on the last poll.
Walker’s polling numbers are still bad, and public opinion doesn’t necessarily play a huge role in the petition gathering process. But this will continue to degrade over time, and that will play into Walker’s narrative, which he pushed out right after last week’s results, that the public is tired of recalls and wants everyone to work together (right after Walker implements the entire right-wing agenda, of course). People wouldn’t just be voting in an election between two candidates, but on whether or not to use the extraordinary procedure of a mid-term recall. In the other recall races in Wisconsin, the incumbents got late support, perhaps for this reason.
There is one man in Wisconsin who can upset this dynamic, however, and bring vitality and energy to a recall. His name is Russ Feingold.
Russ Feingold would lead him 52-45 in a recall at this stage, taking independents by a 53-43 margin. Despite his defeat last year in an election marked by very low Democratic turnout, Feingold remains decently popular in the state with a 49/43 favorability rating.
Democrats may be dependent on a Feingold candidacy to win though. In May Tom Barrett led Walker 50-43 in a hypothetical rematch of their contest last fall, but now Barrett’s advantage is only 48-47. Given the way sentiment has moved against recall in the closing days of these elections I don’t think Barrett would beat Walker if he started with only a one point lead. And Walker already has the advantage over two other Democrats that have been mentioned as potential candidates- 47-44 over former Congressman David Obey and 46-43 over sitting Congressman Ron Kind.
Obviously other factors could come into play. But right now, if Wisconsin Democrats want to get rid of Scott Walker, they need to persuade Feingold that he take up the challenge.