Big guns stump in Wis. as recall election nears

Former President Bill Clinton, left, speaks on behalf of Democratic candidate for Gov. Tom Barrett, right, at a rally Friday, June 1, 2012, in Milwaukee. Clinton urged hundreds of Wisconsin Democrats to vote out Republican Gov. Scott Walker in next week's recall election because he refused to govern through compromise and honest negotiation.
AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps

(CBS/AP) Both parties are bringing big guns - and big money - to Wisconsin's close and bitterly-contested recall election between Republican Governor Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Tom Barrett.

Tuesday's decision by voters may be national implications.

Former President Bill Clinton came to Milwaukee Friday to attack the famously confrontational sitting Republican governor, the man who stripped government workers of collective bargaining rights, sparking massive protests inside and outside of the State House.

Clinton told a crowd of hundreds of voters at a downtown riverfront park that the states recovering from the economic downturn are those in which members of both parties are working together. "They are involved in creative cooperation, not constant conflict," he said.

"Cooperation works; constant conflict is a dead bank loser, and you need to get rid of it," Clinton said to cheers.

Clinton's comments were a clear dig at Walker after the state divided last year when Walker and Republican leaders the governor's proposal through the state Legislature, despite weeks of protests at the state Capitol and Senate Democrats fleeing to Illinois in an ultimately futile effort to block a vote.

Clinton cautioned that Republicans would interpret a Walker victory as authorization to continue what he called a divide-and-conquer strategy, and that they would feel empowered to break unions and continue attacking the middle class.

"Ordinarily I'm against recall elections," Clinton said, "but sometimes it is the only way to avoid a disastrous course."

The former president was the latest in a string of high-profile Democrats who have campaigned on Barrett's behalf in recent days. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, head of the Democratic National Committee, rallied about 100 Democratic volunteers in Racine on Wednesday, and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley - chairman of the Democratic Governors Association - was in Madison Thursday.

Their target: the man Barrett called "the rock star of the far right" and "the poster boy for the Tea Party" - epithets that drew boos from the Madison crowd on Friday.

Indeed, the Tea Party IS wild about Walker. Howard Kaloogian came all the way from California to support him: "The reforms that we need in this country occurred in Wisconsin," he said.

Walker, meanwhile, has won the hearts of many conservatives. He said Tuesday's election to decide whether he remains in office is a choice on whether "we want our children to have a better future than the one we inherited. That's what this election's all about."

Tea Party favorite Nikki Haley, R-S.C. - who has called herself a "union buster," and considers her state's low union membership rate a positive tool for economic development - stumped for Walker at a Sussex, Wis. printing plant on Friday: "We love fighters. We love fighters that understand that when it gets hot you keep moving and you fight for the good of the people. And that's what he's done."

Other Republicans governors who have visited Wisconsin for Walker include Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Chris Christie of New Jersey.

Something else Walker has done: raise $30 million since taking office - an enormous sum by Wisconsin standards. His recall election campaign has outspent Barrett's 10 to one.

Money from outside PACs has also flooded Wisconsin. Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a government watchdog group, reported Thursday that at least $62 million has been spent by both candidates and outside interest groups.

The LaCrosse Tribune reports nearly 17,000 ads have aired in western Wisconsin in recent months, at a cost of $7.8 million, attempting to sway voters.

Walker has been leading in polls released by the Marquette University Law School during the past two weeks. One released Wednesday showed him with a 7-point edge, but within the margin of error. And with few undecided voters, most campaign experts say the key to victory for either candidate will be turnout.

"If you don't show up to vote, they will say, 'See? We got 'em now - we're finally going to break every union in America, break every government in America. We're going to stop worrying about the middle class, don't give a rip whether poor people get to work their way into it, we got our way now, we got it all, divide and conquer works,'" Clinton told the crowd in Milwaukee Friday. "You tell 'em, 'No!'"

Local election clerks who track absentee voting through a statewide computer system had issued at least 182,000 absentee ballots by midday Friday, foreshadowing what is expected to be heavy turnout next week. Almost 231,000 absentee ballots were cast during the 2010 gubernatorial race, which saw Walker beat Barrett by about 125,000 votes. However, only a third of Wisconsin clerks use the tracking system, which means the actual number of ballots issued so far in the recall is likely much, much higher.

Clerk's office employees said they extended hours on Friday, the last day for absentee voting, because of the high volume of voters seeking to cast their ballot ahead of the June 5 recall election. Employees told CBS Affiliate WISC upward of 1,250 people voted in Madison on Friday - the most of any day so far, officials said.

WISC reports more than 50,000 people voted in the last two days, according to the Government Accountability Board.

The Republicans believe that a Walker victory on Tuesday will make Wisconsin competitive in the general election, reports Dean Reynolds. That would be a huge change - Barack Obama won Wisconsin by 14 points just four years ago.