Anyone who has followed national politics over the last year will be eagerly awaiting the results of the efforts in Wisconsin to recall Republican Governor Scott Walker. It is considered to be the most important pre-November general election result in the country because it represents two distinct philosophies and the direction this country could go when all the votes are tallied on November 6th.
But more importantly, it is a bellwether election, a test strategy for Democrats to see just how competitive a superior ground game can be, and whether or not underfunded Democratic candidates across the country can compete with the hundreds of millions of dollars Republicans and Republican affiliated organizations (read Super PACs) are going to dump into efforts to once again wrest total control of the government from Democratic hands.
There are reports out of Wisconsin that Scott Walker’s forces have outspent the Democrats upwards of 20 to 1. More realistic figures peg that ratio at better than 7 to 1. As our own Dixon Guizot reports from Wisconsin (where he is currently visiting relatives), the airwaves are saturated with political ads, mostly in support of Walker and the five other Republicans that are subject to the recall (four State Senators and the Lieutenant Governor). The Koch driven Americans for Prosperity has embarked on a statewide “A Better Wisconsin” bus tour to tout the “successes” that Walker’s agenda has brought to Wisconsin.
AFP insists that the tour has absolutely nothing to do with the recall election. It’s just pure coincidence that the efforts started just days prior to the election itself, but we’re supposed to believe that they aren’t being conducted to directly support Scott Walker. That would be in violation of federal election laws, which would cause AFP to lose their tax exempt status. Instead, they’re being done to “educate folks on the importance of the reforms” Walker and his fellow Republicans have brought to the state.
These are the same reforms that prompted the massive protests we saw in the dead of winter in the state’s capitol, Madison, where protesters occupied the state capital building and the streets around it for the better part of a week. The same reforms that stripped public employees of their collective bargaining rights, gave massive tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy, led to devastating budget cuts, and the largest cuts to education in the state’s history according to State Senators Lena Taylor and Mark Miller.
Republican State Senator Glenn Grothman told the “Ed Show” audience that the state would, in effect, rather lay off teachers than have to pay for their pensions.
The facts are that Wisconsin has posted the biggest job losses in the country since Walker has taken office. Their policies aren’t working, and Wisconsinites are up in arms. The recall effort brought more than one million valid signatures to the Secretary of State’s office, more than double the 540,208 required to trigger the recall.
And it’s been the ground game—the get-out-the-vote efforts—that have gotten it done, and that have kept Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett competitive in the face of the $29 million that Walker has spent, compared to a paltry $4 million spent on behalf of Barrett. Another $21 million has been spent by outside groups, including $8.7 million by the Republican Governor’s Association. All told, $61 million has been spent on this race, the overwhelming majority of it on the Republican side.
So why is this important for San Diego–other than Carl DeMaio’s wet dream of turning San Diego in to the “Wisconsin of the West?” It’s a test to see if the ground game really can beat the avalanche of money Republicans will bring to bear. Here in California’s 52nd Congressional District race, Republican incumbent Brian Bilbray has nearly $1 million in the bank ready to spend on the general election. Republican Super PACs such as the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity, Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and American Crossroads, Dick Armey’s Freedom Works, and the ultra conservative Club for Growth have mountains of money that they’re just aching to throw into the race to ensure that the seat remains in Republican hands.
There are no such super funds on the Democratic side. And so the question is whether Democrats Scott Peters or Lori Saldaña—whichever survives the primary—will be able to win in November against such a massive onslaught of money. Scott Peters is better funded, but still cannot come anywhere close to matching what Bilbray will have access to.
Lori Saldaña, according to the last report to the FEC, had a paltry $25,000 cash on hand, and had raised barely over $300,000 for her election effort. But she has a tremendous get-out-the-vote strategy working in her favor, and her supporters have attacked this campaign with a vicious fervor that I’ve never seen in this city.
Should Saldaña manage to squeak past Peters in the primary, the results in Wisconsin could tell us a lot about how she could expect to fare in November. It will tell us whether a massive ground effort is capable of overcoming the millions of dollars above and beyond what she can bring to the race. Chances are she’s going to be outspent nearly 2 to 1 judging by the numbers both hers and the Bilbray campaign have reported thus far, and that does not account for spending by outside groups. That’s just the campaigns themselves, and that’s a very conservative estimate based solely on expenditures to this point. Bilbray has already spent $580,000 and still has nearly $800,000 cash on hand.
In the money race, Scott Peters will likely fare better. Much better, although to remain competitive he did have to loan his own campaign over $1.2 million: He’s already spent $1.4 million and still has $370,000 cash on hand. But his ground campaign does not compare to Saldaña’s, and his supporters do not appear to bring the same kind of enthusiasm to the game that Saldaña’s do.
I believe that Peters is the better candidate, and is more likely to be able to squeak out the win on November 6th. But on the other hand, it would be truly fascinating to see whether an underfunded but superior organized ground effort is capable of pulling off the upset.