Published April 03, 2012
With all the lawn signs and ads on the airwaves, it's obvious an election is taking place in Wisconsin -- just not for the Republican presidential candidates.
While the presidential primary being held Tuesday is a comparatively low-key affair, the raucous campaign to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker is dominating the state's political landscape.
More than a year after the unions took to the streets and the halls of the capital city of Madison in protest of Walker's budget reforms, the push to recall the governor and other Republican officials is reaching a decision point. The lawn signs in the state are more likely to say "Recall Walker" or "Support Walker," than anything about the GOP presidential candidates, as the governor prepares to stand for election in June.
"The presidential race essentially didn't come to Wisconsin 'till seven days ago," said Brian Schimming, vice chair of the Republican Party of Wisconsin.
The recall fever has made it difficult for the presidential candidates to make inroads with voters. By the time the ads for Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum hit the airwaves, viewers had seen their share of pro- or anti-Walker spots.
"The presidential race has had a hard time getting on the radar screen in Wisconsin. I think so much attention has been paid to the recall elections, and there has been recall fever for over a year in Wisconsin," said Mike McCabe, with the independent watchdog organization the Wisconsin Democracy Group.
Wisconsin donations to the presidential campaigns are down 57 percent. Still, the candidates are forced to spend money just to get noticed. "We spent plenty of money to get our message out and to get people to focus that this race is happening right now," said Ted Kanavas, Wisconsin chairman for the Romney campaign.
That does not mean the money is tight in the state. "There is no question that there is money flowing -- big money flowing. It's just not flowing to the presidential race," McCabe said.
The last time candidates in the recall needed to disclose finances, Walker had already raised $12 million -- a record in Wisconsin. That was long before the recall election was certified. He was able to continue raising money without restraint until last Friday, when the recall became official.
Money is flowing in because combatants on both sides understand how important the June 5 recall will be as a barometer for November.
All the attention on the recall, though, doesn't mean state voters are disinterested in the presidential race.
The election board estimates that one in three registered voters will turn out for the primary.
"They are as keyed in as they have been in my 30 years of involvement in this state. People are really paying attention. They are going to vote. The energy level is there," Shimming said.