Are the Winds Shifting Towards Wisconsin Democrats?

There's been quite a bit of bad news for the recall activists hoping to oust Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. A close primary at the beginning of the month divided party supporters and muddied the unified front activists formed when they collected over a million signatures to prompt the recall. Then there was the money—Walker spent much of 2012 testing his stump speech with out-of-state voters.

Thanks to a loophole, he could receive unlimited contributions while until the recall election was officially called, giving him months to raise over $14 million—more than some presidential candidates. While Tea Party groups continued to beat the drum and paint the race as a precursor to November, reports surfaced that the DNC wouldn't be showing up to help eventual Democratic nominee Tom Barrett, which left state Democrats "furious." With all the news, poll numbers showed a fairly consistent 5-point lead for the controversial governor for the first few weeks of May.

It looked fairly bleak. Despite enthusiasm, the recall activists were hugely outspent. There were hardly any undecided voters, which made turnout extremely important, and with the funding gap, the GOP seemed to have a huge advantage. Nationally, the perception was of a quixotic, lost cause.

But with five days to go before the election, things look a lot less bleak; optimists might even say things are looking up.

Nine days ago, the DNC started doing some direct fundraising for the recall effort, sending an email appeal to millions. "Choices don't get clearer than this," wrote DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The money from the appeal didn't go through the DNC either—it went straight to the Wisconsin party's coffers. The Obama team is also involved, as the state director for the campaign asked supporters to help Barrett defeat Walker. That's good news for Barrett; in polls, Obama has more support in the state than the Milwaukee mayor. 

In the last five weeks, the fundraising gap isn't quite so huge—Walker has raised over $5 million but Barrett's received around $3.4 million himself. In addition, as the Washington Times noted, the Democratic Governors Association says it has put $2 million into the recall effort. Even Bill Clinton is getting in on the action. The former president is going to the Badger State to stump for Barrett this week.

More importantly, however, is that Barrett is slowly proving to be far more than a placeholder candidate. He's managed to keep the race close despite Walker's huge early spending, and a poll Wednesday from respected Democratic pollster Celinda Lake showed the race in a dead heat. 

In the race's debates, he's proven his ability to go on the offensive. Last night, in the final debate  he criticized Walker on everything from collective bargaining to the John Doe investigation that's surrounded Walker's lieutenants for months. Walker, who's not a bad debater himself, stuck to his guns but not without taking a number of hits. Looking directly at his opponent, Barrett didn't hold back. "He's become the rockstar of the far right," the mayor said of Walker. "If that [right-to-work] bill hits his desk, he's signing it."

"If nothing else, he's learned how to go into attack mode," tweeted Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Daniel Bice after everything was over.

Barrett is still the underdog, of course. But this is a race that will help determine the future of organized labor in a state that helped build the union movement in the first place. Given the tens of millions that have gone toward shutting them down, it's amazing the activists still have a shot.

And with four days to go, it looks like they clearly do.

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