A funny thing has happened to the Democrats' plan to oust Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in next month's recall election; they've decided to have themselves an all-out civil war. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who narrowly lost to Walker in 2010, was viewed by many party regulars as the leading, and best, candidate to take on Walker. But, his anemic campaign has sparked a challenge from the far left. Kathleen Falk, former Executive of uber-liberal Dane County, home to the state capital Madison, has launched an aggressive primary challenge to Barrett, fueled by millions of dollars from public sector unions.
According to the latest campaigns filings, both campaigns have raised roughly the same amount of money, around $1 million. But, the source of those funds are very different. Over 90% of campaign contributions to Tom Barrett have come from individuals. More than one-third of Falks' donations, though, have come from public sector unions. The union support doesn't end there. Through a separate committee, "Wisconsin for Falk", public sector unions have already spent nearly $5 million on behalf of Falk's campaign.
The fight has gotten so heated that many state Democrats are getting spooked. Former Congressman David Obey, almost the dean of WI democrats, recently warned Falk to tone down the attacks:
I don't think recall elections are the proper time for a suicide pact, and our chances of unseating the governor are not so outrageously good that we can waste time attacking each other.
The problem facing Democrats is one recognized by many parents; once a toddler starts a temper tantrum, its very hard to calm them down. The public sector unions in Wisconsin have been having a year-long temper tantrum and show no sign of calming down, even if it means wasting still more of their members' hard-earned dues.
Falk, befitting someone who has, at the very least, leased herself to the unions, has promised to veto any budget that doesn't immediately repeal Walker's budget reforms. Inconveniently for the Democrats and the unions, Barrett used those very same reforms to plug a hole in Milwaukee's city budget. For the unions, it isn't enough that a Democrat win next month. They desperately need someone beholden to them to win.
Barrett has most of the party establishment behind him. He is a fairly popular mayor of the state's largest city and has run well statewide in the past. In any other election, he would be the clear favorite. But, this is not any other election. Next week's primary is far-outside the normal election calendar for the state. It should have a relatively low turnout. So, it will all come down to turnout.
And that gives Falk, and her union patrons, the edge.