Huffpost Politics

Wisconsin Primary 2012: Race Barely Registers As Voters Preoccupied With Scott Walker Recall

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WISCONSIN PRIMARY 2012
AP

MADISON, Wis. -- The effort to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker has been so all-consuming in Wisconsin that the upcoming presidential primary election here is attracting little interest among voters or political activists.

Even the head of Mitt Romney's campaign in Wisconsin says that he knows voters are too distracted to pay much attention to the April 3 vote.

"People are not focused on the presidential," said Ted Kanavas, a former state senator and Romney's campaign co-chair. "They are totally focused on the recall because truthfully they should be."

Thus, with the election only a little more than a week away, Wisconsin is a black hole in a race that has been fiercely contested coast to coast since January, a sharp contrast to the recent contests in other Midwestern states like Michigan and Ohio.

Volunteers working on the national campaign are few and far between. About 30 times more Republican activists are tied up helping Walker win his recall race than helping GOP front-runner Romney win the nomination, Kanavas estimates. Romney's campaign has only one office in Wisconsin, compared to the 21 opened by Walker.

Even Republican voters who are usually interested in politics say they don't care about the primary, in which Romney, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul will compete for the state's 42 delegates.

"I don't think anybody looks forward to more politics," said Travis Winder, 33, of Fitchburg. He added, "I'm looking forward to the primary being over and the presidential race being over."

The recall election is likely to be held in June. The campaign over Walker's fate has been going on for months, with television advertising, mailings and maneuvering over the mechanics of the recall process. Organized labor and Democratic critics targeted Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four Republican state senators after Walker won approval from the GOP-controlled Legislature for effectively ending collective bargaining for most public employees.

The fight over the legislation prompted demonstrations of up to 100,000 people at the state Capitol last winter, and made Wisconsin the focus of the national fight over labor rights.

Walker has run television ads almost nonstop since mid-November when the recall petitions first hit the street.

State Rep. Robin Vos said Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus asked him a couple weeks ago about the chatter in the state about the upcoming presidential primary.

"And I said, `Reince, I hate to burst your bubble, but nobody in Wisconsin is talking about the presidential primary,'" Vos said.

Other Wisconsin races have also been overshadowed, including the contest for an open U.S. Senate seat.

"The upcoming recall election has taken everything else off the map," said Mike McCabe, director of the independent watchdog group the Wisconsin Democracy campaign.

Bob Anderson, 61, a welder from Coon Valley in western Wisconsin, said he plans to vote in the primary, probably for Romney, but has been too distracted by the Walker recall to think about the race.

Of the recall, he said, "You kind of want to get that thing done first, then worry about the rest."

So far, the presidential candidates haven't helped raise their profiles. They haven't campaigned in the state and the first television ads, coming from Romney's super PAC Restore Our Future, didn't start airing until March. That PAC has spent more than $2 million on ads in Wisconsin while Rick Santorum has only been able to answer with about $50,000. With primary contests stacked up close together on the election calendar this year, candidates sometimes haven't made many personal appearances in a state until right before a vote.

To avoid alienating any Republicans, Walker hasn't endorsed one of the presidential candidates.

"With this recall, I can't afford to be focused on anything but that," Walker told the Associated Press.

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