“Electability” becoming important issue in gubernatorial recall

MILWAUKEE — When it comes to the recall effort against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefish and four Republican state senators, “electability” is becoming an important issue. Voters in the upcoming recall primary will likely choose candidates based not on who they like the most, but who is most likely to be elected.

The decision in the Democratic primary for governor may boil down to one question: who can beat Scott Walker?

The issue of electability concerns Republicans as well. Powerful state Senator Scott Fitzgerald told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he’s encouraging Republicans to cross over and cast ballots in the Democratic primary. Fitzgerald wants them to vote for Kathleen Falk, because he views Falk as a weaker candidate. Fitzgerald was quoted as saying :”There’s nothing keeping the Republicans from messing around.”

This is a development Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett says shows his strength. “Sometimes you can judge these things by the comments of your opponents. In many ways, that’s the ultimate back-handed compliment. They have made it very, very clear that they don’t want to run against Tom Barrett,” Barrett said.

Walker’s campaign strategy hints at this as well. Walker is running two advertisements – one criticizing Barrett and the other attacking Falk, but so far, only the Barrett ad is airing on TV stations.

Falk says she is the most electable candidate. “The polls show us all dead even, so that’s what they’re worried about. They’re worried that I’m the stronger one,” Falk said.

Falk points to her failed bid for Wisconsin Attorney General in 2006 – with a veiled criticism of Barrett’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign. “Six years ago, when I was on the statewide ballot, not the top of the ticket, but I got 1,056,000 votes, which is 50,000 more votes than our candidate for governor got a year and a half ago. They’re not afraid I can’t win. They’re afraid I can. The polling numbers show that, and my track record,” Falk said.

The most recent Marquette University Law School poll shows Barrett with a seven-point lead over Falk in the Democratic primary, but shows both Falk and Barrett in a statistical dead heat with Walker.

The Democratic primary will be about determining who can win, and UW-Milwaukee Professor of Governmental Affairs Mordecai Lee says electability will be central in that decision. “The voters believed it was important in the primary to vote for someone who in their heart, they liked, or someone who in their head was electable, so all of a sudden, electability becomes an issue that motivates voters,” Lee said.

There are two other major candidates running for governor – state Senator Kathleen Vinehout and Secretary of State Doug LaFollette, but both are trailing by more than 20 points in the polls.

The Democratic primary is set for May 8th.

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