MADISON, Wis. – Amid signs that the effort to oust Republican Gov. Scott Walker is losing ground, Wisconsin Democrats and union leaders are preparing a fundraising and get-out-the-vote push to regain momentum in the final weeks before the June recall election.
Opponents of Walker are concerned that the governor, aided by a huge influx of money from conservative supporters nationwide, has opened a lead in a race that had been dead even in the polls.
Walker, who has raised $25 million, has been blanketing Wisconsin with broadcast advertising touting his handling of the economy. His Democratic opponent, Tom Barrett, who did not win his party's primary until May 8, has raised only $1 million and not been able to match the blitz. The most recent public poll on the race released last week showed Walker leading by 6 points.
"I feel like Walker does have the momentum," said Michael Brown, who was among those who organized the petition drive that netted more than 900,000 signatures to force the recall vote. "It's up to the people of Wisconsin to push back."
The effort to recall Walker, which began after he successfully pushed to remove the collective bargaining power of public employee unions, has become a nationally watched battle over worker rights.
Democratic strategists say Barrett can still rebound with a new surge of advertising and volunteer work before the June 5 vote.
"Last week was the first week that the Walker and Barrett campaigns, and their allies, were at spending parity on television," said Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate. "We are, internally, seeing things start to move in our direction in a very substantial way."
But those on both sides agree that getting voters to the polls will be more important that swaying the undecided, who may only amount to a few percent of the electorate.
"Who can get their base to turn out — that's it right there," said Brown.
Tate said Democrats have prepared a "huge, well-funded" turnout operation that will deliver more votes to Barrett than he received in the 2010 governor's race, when he lost to Walker by 5 percentage points.
The Democratic National Committee said Monday it has sent $1.4 million to Wisconsin in the 2012 election cycle and is tapping its organization to turn out votes for Barrett.
DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz plans to host a fundraiser for Barrett on May 30. Another Democratic heavy hitter, former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, whose spokesman said has already raised $50,000 for the campaign and worked to get Democrats to vote early, is also hosting a Barrett fundraiser that day.
Meanwhile, Republican volunteers contacted 200,000 voters over the weekend on top of 2 million calls they had made since January, said Wisconsin Republican Party spokesman Ben Sparks.
"Voter turnout is obviously a focus in the final two weeks of this recall election," Sparks said.
Some unions that were at the forefront of the recall effort have provided only limited help for Barrett, who defeated Democratic candidates who were favored by labor. Unions that spent nearly $11 million on state Senate recalls last year have yet to air an ad on behalf of Barrett.
One union coalition, We Are Wisconsin, has invested in mailings and has built a statewide field campaign with 29 offices, said spokesman Kelly Steele.
Turnout should be high. A poll released last week by Marquette University Law School poll found that 91 percent of Republicans said they were "absolutely certain" to vote, compared with 83 percent of Democrats and independents.
Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee, said Monday he remained "very confident" he'll win, and that with Walker's financial advantage he should be "crushing me."
"But we're not seeing that," Barrett said. "We're not seeing that, we're not feeling that, we're not hearing that."
Barrett on Monday continued to try to raise questions about Walker's ethics. He called on Walker to release more details about his involvement with an investigation of alleged political abuses that has centered on former aides.
Walker dismissed it as a "desperate attempt from a desperate campaign."
Barrett's campaign has also targeted state job losses during Walker's term and national Republican policies that allegedly amount to a "war on women."
Walker has pounded away at his central message --that his conservative policies are saving taxpayers money and have put the state on sounder financial ground.
"We've laid a positive foundation for success," he said Monday at a Madison company that was announcing it was adding about 100 jobs.
Brown, the activist who helped launch the recall drive, said Walker's money appeared to be winning over voters.
"It is frustrating for me to witness, but there is still two weeks left."