As polls opened this morning for the Wisconsin recall election, long lines formed in downtown Milwaukee–the core area of Democratic support for Mayor Tom Barrett, who is challenging incumbent Republican governor Scott Walker.
Down the street, a few volunteers manned the phones at Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign headquarters. The president has been criticized for avoiding Wisconsin during the recall effort. A few lonely Barrett posters hung in the large plate-glass windows, dwarfed by Obama’s giant “O” trademark.
The U.S. Department of Justice has sent poll monitors to Milwaukee–and only Milwaukee, where Democrats need to run up the numbers in order to overcome a large deficit in the polls. When Republican Mark Kirk spoke about the need to protect the integrity of the vote in urban areas during his 2010 U.S. Senate race, Democrats accused him of racism.
Turnout will be the key to victory in the statewide recall election, in which not only Walker but also Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch and three Republican senators are being challenged. The recall election was once seen as an important battle over the power of public employee unions, but the unions’ favored candidate lost the Democratic primary to Barrett, and Walker’s reforms to collective bargaining have saved jobs and money for the state and local governments.