Wisconsin Dems to pick Scott Walker's recall opponent

When Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's law passed stripping unions of the right to collective bargaining, nearly a million petitions were signed to force him to stand for re-election after only a year and a half in office. Jim Axelrod reports on how the recall election is expected to become one of the most costly gubernatorial elections in the country.
Wisconsin recall petitions
Mark Hirsch/Getty Images

(CBS News) Democrats in Wisconsin today will nominate the candidate to face off against the contentious Republican Gov. Scott Walker in the June 5 recall election.

The most recent poll shows Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in the lead -- and with just four weeks left before the recall, Barrett and Walker are already taking swings at each other.

Both Barrett and Walker rolled out ads Monday criticizing each other's records, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. Walker -- who has raised an astounding $25 million to defend himself against the recall -- is planning to make campaign stops in four cities across the state on Tuesday.

Democrats, meanwhile, canceled a celebratory "unity" event planned for Wednesday in favor of focusing on get-out-the-vote efforts.

"After serious discussion, we believe we can't afford to lose a single day of voter contact," the Wisconsin Democratic Party wrote on its Facebook page, noting the recall election will come down to turnout. "It is imperative that we do everything we can to contact and turn out the voters we need to achieve what we have all worked so hard for over the past fifteen months - recalling Scott Walker."

In addition to the primary for the gubernatorial recall, today's Wisconsin primary includes a lieutenant governor's race and four state Senate recalls.

The recall efforts against Walker and several other state legislators were spurred by the controversial law Walker passed in the spring of 2011, nearly eliminating public workers' collective bargaining rights. The fight over the legislation prompted weeks of raucous protests in the state and inspired some Democratic lawmakers to flee the state.

Protesters march outside the state Capitol Saturday, March 12, 2011, in Madison, Wis. While Gov. Scott Walker has already signed a contentious collective bargaining bill into law, demonstrators insist the fight is not over. For some, the focus has shifted from trying to stop passage of the bill to generating momentum for recall efforts against Republicans. Others are simply venting their frustration over the law taking away most of public workers' collective bargaining rights. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
AP Photo/Morry Gash

The Wisconsin fight over union rights became the epicenter for a national debate over government priorities and Walker has been held up as a hero by the right and a villain by the left.

"More than most politicians, Walker's political strengths are inseparable from his political weaknesses," writes the Journal Sentinel's Craig Gilbert. "The same policy agenda that inflamed opponents and led to the third gubernatorial recall election in U.S. history has given Walker a national following in his party that could sustain him in politics for years to come... The opposition he inspires has put his job in peril. But the support he inspires makes beating him a very daunting task, because he mobilizes Republicans like mad."

A poll released last week by Marquette University Law School showed that Barrett has the best chance of defeating Walker -- in a head-to-head match up, the two are in a dead heat.

That same poll shows that Barrett has a 17-point lead over his closest Democratic primary opponent, former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk (Barrett wins 38 percent to Falk's 21 percent).

Politico reports that several high-profile labor groups backed Falk in the primary election, putting $4 million behind her campaign. Falk is more closely associated with the pro-union movement and protests that eventually led to the recall election.  The liberal publication Mother Jones points out that she took to the streets with other protesters and filed the first lawsuit against Walker's anti-union bill.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports that Republicans are accusing Democrats of canceling their Wednesday "unity" rally because of Barrett's rocky relationship with unions. A Barrett spokesman told the Journal that was a "laughable" theory.