Friday, August 12, 2011

2012 and the dangers of a Scott Walker recall

Here is an article I wrote for Roll Call on the proposed Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker recall. This started out as a blog post for Wednesday, but I held it off for publication. Here's a brief summary of some of the key points.

Democrats and the labor unions have been talking up the Walker recall, but there are a problems with it. The most obvious one is practical --  There is a reason that there have only been two gubernatorial recalls in U.S. history, North Dakota in 1921 and California in 2003. And, as I've said before, Wisconsin’s rules are tough, as the state has one of the hardest signature requirements to get a recall on the ballot. 

But this practical problem is compounded by a more serious political one. Would the recall backfire against the Democrats in the presidential election? Possibly, and the reason is timing. There are three time periods when you can have the recall. One is as special election (which is anytime), the second is on the same day as a primary, and the third is on the same day as a general election.

The problem with a special election is that it costs a lot of money to hold (Gray Davis’ recall cost the state somewhere in the neighborhood of $66 million and that was without a primary vote). As I've mentioned beforeThe cost of the recall is generally not a great defense for a sitting official. Sometimes it works, but frequently it fails. However, if Walker survives, then the cost of the recall could become a great weapon for the Republicans in November. It plays directly into their overarching theme of profligate Democrats.

Holding a recall on primary day would potentially be a disaster for the Democrats, as the Republicans have a presidential campaign that day, and the Democrats do not.

A general election would fit right into a presidential race, and it would end up being almost a standard gubernatorial race, but one where the Democrats have a built-in voter advantage (the party has won the state in every presidential race since 1984). However, the Republicans are well aware of the negative consequences of holding a recall on Election Day. As this AP story notes (I spoke with the reporter, but my comments weren't included), you can be certain they would do everything in their power to prevent it. It is not too hard to do – look at the so-called fake Democratic primaries in the senatorial recalls. That pushed off the recall date by a month. It will be extremely difficult for the Democrats to time this recall properly.

The talk of taking out Walker is big rallying point for the Democrats, and a way to mitigate any pain felt from their failure to capture the Senate. But make no mistake about it, a gubernatorial recall would be a massive undertaking, one that could cause the party grief come November. 

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