Up in Wisconsin, Democrats anointed a centrist to take on Republican Governor Scott Walker in next month’s recall election. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett clobbered former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk, the preferred candidate of Wisconsin labor and the activists who’d campaigned against Walker’s anti-union jihad, by a resounding 24 percent. Falk had been prominent in last year’s anti-Walker resistance in Madison, and she was the logical candidate to be Walker’s Democratic challenger in next month’s recall. But she plainly wasn’t the strongest candidate—polls showed her trailing Walker by 5 to 10 points, while Barrett was running even with the governor. Labor poured millions into Falk’s campaign, but the polling probably convinced even many unionists that getting rid of Walker and restoring public-sector workers’ collective bargaining rights required a vote for Barrett.
Wisconsin unions endorsed Barrett last night wholeheartedly—if they don’t dump Walker next month, it will be a huge black eye, nationally as well as locally, for a movement that already looks pretty well worked over. The run-off in June looks to be exceptionally close, and national unions will spend major bucks to counter the pro-Walker super PACs funded by the Koch Brothers and their ilk.
Ironically, Barrett’s campaign may focus less on labor rights, however central that issue has been to the recall, and more on the state of Wisconsin’s economy. Wisconsin has lost more jobs under Walker than any other state. Indeed, Walker seems to turned Wisconsin economy into a mild version of a Southern European mess. By cutting so many public-sector jobs—more than any other state but one on a percentage basis—he has cut into Wisconsinites’ purchasing power, with the result that private-sector job growth has flat-lined as well. Barrett will paint Walker, accurately, as more concerned with ideology than job creation—a pretty fair description of today’s Republican Party as well. No wonder Dick Lugar didn’t fit in.