Any objective look at the Wisconsin recall right now, with a little over a week to go, would suggest that Scott Walker’s in a good position, and that Tom Barrett and the forces that engineered the recall are in trouble. Walker and his allied outside groups are outspending Barrett and his allies by 3:1 on TV ads, and by who knows how much on mailers and other campaign work. The DNC has solicited funds from their supporters in an email blast, but has yet to put their own money on the line, which has angered labor officials (it should be noted that the Democratic Governor’s Association has spent $3 million in Wisconsin on the recall, though this is half as much as the $6 million from the Republican Governor’s Association). Practically every big-name conservative governor has come to Wisconsin in recent days to rallies with Walker, including Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, Bobby Jindal and Bob McDonnell. Barrett, meanwhile, has had pretty much no high-profile surrogates campaign with him; his campaign says that’s a deliberate strategy to keep things local.
And of course, there’s the polling, almost all of which shows Walker in the lead that measures anywhere between 5 and 8 points. Only one poll, however, has Walker above 50%, and it looks like an outlier. The race is expected to be close and may come down to turnout and excitement, but it’s hard to say that Walker is not the favorite.
Garin/Hart/Yang, Barrett’s pollster, has issued new internal polling today that shows the race to be a dead heat.
In a survey of 935 likely recall voters, conducted by the Garin Hart Yang Research Group from May 22 to 24, Walker led Barrett by 49.89 to 48.62 percent. With the poll’s margin of error at plus or minus 3.3 percent, that means the race is essentially tied.
Wisconsin Democrats have been hammering Walker in recent days over the “John Doe” investigation of his time as Milwaukee county executive, which has already ensnared several former staffers. The probe by the Milwaukee County district attorney’s office is reportedly focusing on whether staffers who worked for Walker did political work on the taxpayers’ dime. In March, Walker set up a legal defense fund.
Likely voters in the Yang survey were asked, “Have you heard or read anything about the John Doe investigation that has led to charges against several former aides or associates of Scott Walker, while he was Milwaukee county executive?” This question came well after the question about which candidate they preferred.
Voters who had heard about the John Doe probe preferred Barrett by 52 to 46 percent. Public awareness of the criminal investigation is also increasing: 25 percent of respondents on Wednesday night said they had heard “a lot” about it, while 37 percent said the same on Thursday night.
This poll is the second internal Dem poll to be put out this week. I should note that both of them show Walker with a small lead, albeit one within the margin of error. Internal polling that we hear about usually shows favorable results to the individual who paid for it; otherwise, it would get buried.
There are opportunities for a change in the dynamic. There are debates scheduled, one tonight and the other next Thursday. And late in the game, Democrats appear to be making the money race a little more equitable. It’s unclear whether the John Doe investigation will provide the lift needed. Of course, Democrats have had several narratives on Walker, including ones on the state’s poor job performance and, of course, the assault on collective bargaining. So picking a narrative and going with it is probably necessary.
UPDATE: Another Dem poll, for the Democratic Governor’s Association, shows Walker leading, but by 49-46, with Barrett gaining ground as his TV ads reach a saturation point.