Saturday, August 20, 2011

Recall Lessons

The Recess Supervisor has five post recall take-away points that are worth looking at, all of which are worth discussing.
1. You can't beat something with nothing. The first thing the Democrats need is a probable candidate.
Couldn't agree more. This year's recall extravaganza has been relatively easy on the Dems messaging machine in so far as they were at liberty to treat Scott Walker like a pinata without worrying about negative attacks on their own tent pole candidate, but eventually they're going to need to have a figurehead to rally around.

With Feingold now out of the equation, the RS looks at Ron Kind (point #2) and David Obey (point #3) as potential candidates. Ron Kind does seem to be the logical choice for a front-runner. He's telegenic, has a carefully-crafted moderate image and can fund-raise in DC and through the Harvard alumni network, etc. We could go on, but the bigger issue that some Democrat needs to step up and become the face of Walker opposition. To date, no one has done so.

Here are three other nominees who could fill that role -- all three of which have enormous problems. The first is Jon Erpenbach, who ably took on the role of chief communicator for the "Wisconsin 14." In many ways he would seem to be perfect for the role, but it seems he will instead focus on running for Congress next year in Tammy Baldwin's soon to be vacated seat. The next is Tom Nelson, who is of course spying an opening to potentially take advantage of in Outagamie County. It's not the best place to launch a campaign or to organize a movement, but it does put some distance between him and the mess in Madison. Nelson, however, does not come without his own baggage.

Last, but not least, is Candidate X -- and I'm going to label he or she as such because, frankly, I'm not sure she or he exists.

Right now would be the perfect time for someone with few (if any) ties to Madison to take the initiative and run a-pox-on-both-your-houses populist campaign that doesn't fight Scott Walker per se, but goes after "business as usual in Madison as it is conducted by the Walker administration." This candidate would be free of an of Madison's taint and could credibly say that they don't bring the partisan baggage to the Governor's mansion of a decade of political knife-fighting, that they could world with both sides of the aisle, because they weren't around when both sides did everything they could to dissolve their working relationship. This person would be a business-owner or local office-holder (a mayor or county executive) who has the resources or savvy to become an opposition.

Several people come to mind who could potentially become Candidate X, but in each case they have the resources, but lack the willingness (or vice versa). So, as I said early, I'm not sure that this person exists, which is too bad, because the only person with the ability to tell both parties to shut up and act like adults is the Governor, and the current Governor can not and will not do so.

The last two point the RS makes are more debatable. Here's #4:
If the Democrats recall Scott Walker but lose the election, it is a virtual certainty that they will lose again in 2014. At some point - if it hasn't already begun - Democrats will lose support in the middle among people who are tired of them forcing voters into a perpetual campaign. For as much as Democrats think average people dislike Scott Walker, I assure you they dislike the commercials, the IE robocalls during dinner, the door knocking by out-of-state volunteers, and the junk in their mailboxes way more. 
I'm not convinced this is true. Remember, there will be at least two whole years between the latest Walker recall effort and his next re-election bid, during which there won't be as anywhere near as much electioneering as we've seen in the last 8 months. That's an eternity.

Also, there's not a whole lot of good news waiting for Walker on the other end of the defeating a recall. According to the state's latest jobs figures, Walker will fall about 50,000 jobs short of his goal of 250,000 jobs in his first term. Most economists do not have rosy outlook for the next few years. It's entirely possibly we could be in the depths of another recession by November 2012 and the wave of populist anger that Walker rode to power might sweep him out to sea.

Let's continue to say that Walker does survive a recall. Throughout his career Walker has never demonstrated an ability to work cooperatively with the opposition. In 2012, the WisGOP may have to defend, in one or another, as many as 17 state senate seats. There's a good chance that the Dems will reclaim that part of the legislature. If that happens, the budget negotiations the following year will be catastrophic. Democrats will have no motivation for passing a budget that doesn't throw them enough of a bone that leaves Walker supporters grumbling. If that doesn't happen there will be work stoppages, lay-offs, furloughs, thousands of voters inconvenienced. The sloppiness of Jim Doyle's final budget was one of the last straws that broke his administration -- don't be surprised if the same illness ends Walker's.

That being said, I will completely contradict myself regarding this very point at the end of this post. 

Then there's the RS's last point:
Don't underestimate the wishes of Obama's political team. In all likelihood, after all the signature counting, challenging, and assorted lawyering up, a gubernatorial recall ends up on a November ballot. That race will likely dominate the presidential election in terms of interest. The question for Team Obama is whether that helps him or hurts him in Wisconsin. If their determination is that it hurts Obama, or is a wild card with which they don't want to risk dealing, there could be pressure on DPW and other left-leaning interest groups to let it go and move on. 
That's a pretty bold prediction, one that assumes, oddly enough, that the WisDems cand find a credible candidate to take on Walker and the GOP can find an candidate that will be able to take on Obama (Mitt Romney, who we think will win the nomination after a ten car pile up at the finish line, won't cut it).

Then there's the highly possible Perfect Storm Scenario: Paul Ryan is on the national GOP ticket. What that does to a November gubernatorial recall race in Wisconsin is anyone's guess, but suffice it to say that both races will be fubar in Wisconsin. We'll know the answer in about 54 weeks.

Last is something that I haven't seen a single commentator or blogger or pundit or belligerent radio douche mention as one of the real, big picture take-aways from the recalls. It's a point that tends to get brushed aside as too obvious to mention:
Wisconsin voters like incumbents.
I mean we really like incumbents. The two recall races the did result in successful turnovers were both under extraordinary circumstances. This should be an important lesson to the folks who will eventually run the Recall Walker effort: they need to convince voters that the recall is necessary before running against Walker. If the recall occurs in November they might get away with skipping this step by bundling it up together with the normal election cycle, but this isn't a state that has a recent history of deposing holders of important offices shortly after their initial elections. Dave Obey was in office for 40 years. Tommy Thompson was governor for like 14 years. Tom Petri (remember him?), 30+ years. Russ Feingold managed to hang on for 18 years. Herb Kohl is up to 25, I think. Scott Walker has an enormous "natural" advantage as the incumbent and there really isn't an easy answer for how to overcome that.

There have been some absolutely horrible governors that have held office in the last 100 years, or since the recall became an option. The two governors that were successfully recalled were actually in their 5th years in office. That bodes well for Scott Walker. Voters prefer to wait for their elected officials' contract to expire before trying to bounce them. I don't think Recall Walker will have much trouble getting the requisite signatures to force an election, buut they are going to have a very difficult time getting enough votes and the polls.

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