By SCOTT BAUER, ASSOCIATED PRESS
MADISON, Wis. — Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett hopes for a chance at a rematch against Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as Democrats vote Tuesday on who will take on the first-term governor in a historic recall election next month.
Barrett was one of four Democrats on Tuesday's primary ballot looking to challenge Walker in the June 5 general election that has become a nationally watched battle over union rights.
Since his successful push to effectively end collective bargaining rights for most state workers, Walker has emerged as a national conservative hero, shattering fundraising records in Wisconsin by collecting $25 million, mostly from out-of-state donors. Walker has embodied the Republican rise to power in 2010 and hopes to avoid becoming just the third governor to be recalled in U.S. history.
Polls heading into the primary have consistently shown Barrett ahead of the other Democrats, including one last week that showed him 17 points up over nearest rival Kathleen Falk. Barrett's emergence as the front-runner was aided by his strong name recognition across the state, having just run against Walker for governor in 2010. Walker beat Barrett by about 125,000 votes, or roughly 5 percentage points.
Other Democrats on the ballot are Secretary of State Doug La Follette and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout. They ran low-profile campaigns that failed to gain traction with voters. Gladys Huber is a Republican running as a Democrat.
Walker faces token opposition in the GOP primary from Arthur Kohl-Riggs, a Walker opponent running as a Republican.
Falk snared key endorsements in the recall race from unions, including the AFL-CIO and the statewide teachers union. Falk promised to veto any budget that doesn't restore the collective bargaining rights Walker took away, while Barrett has refused to make such a promise.
Despite their differences, the Democratic primary was mostly devoid of internal attacks. The candidates instead stayed largely focused on Walker and the policies he enacted over 16 months in office.
While the union fight spurred the recall, the campaign has been much broader and focused largely on Wisconsin's economy. Though the state's unemployment rate is at its lowest level since 2008, Wisconsin lost more jobs than any other state between March 2011 and March 2012. Since Walker took office, only 5,900 private sector jobs have been created.
Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and three Republican state senators also face recall elections. There is an election in a fourth Senate district where the Republican incumbent targeted for recall resigned rather than run to keep her seat.
Turnout in the primary was projected to be 30 percent and 35 percent of eligible voters, which would be the highest for a primary in a governor's race since 38.9 percent in 1952.
Below, more on the history of the Scott Walker recall:
In 2010, a surge of Tea Party momentum and backlash against Democrats helped elect conservatives including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who became the state's first Republican governor since 2002. Walker promised to cut taxes and create 250,000 new jobs, but a deeper look into his past also showed a politician who had inflamed tensions with unions before. The Washington Post reports on his time as Milwaukee County Executive, during which the collective bargaining rights of unions already appeared to be one of his most ambitious targets: During his eight-year tenure in Milwaukee County, Walker never raised property taxes. He cut the county workforce by 20 percent, improved its bond rating and gave back hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own salary as part of the effort to trim spending. But he also saw his relations with local unions deteriorate. Union leaders say Walker never negotiated in good faith and had a singular solution to every budget problem: cut. Under his watch, the county privatized public jobs, laid off workers and placed others on furlough. [...] Walker argued that collective bargaining was the biggest hurdle to balancing the budget and that unions had little incentive to give ground because they almost always prevailed in arbitration. He said that the cuts he proposed were intended to prevent layoffs and accused union leaders of being uninterested in compromise.
After taking office, Walker announced a number of controversial proposals, including eliminating collective bargaining rights for state employees and reducing public employee benefits, as part of a "budget repair bill." He said the reforms were necessary to prevent the layoffs of thousands of workers. Facing anger from unions, Walker announced his readiness to mobilize the state's National Guard in response to any disruptions. The announcement was met with backlash by public sector workers across the state.
The fight over Walker's proposed budget was contentious, with Wisconsin Democratic state senators crossing state lines to Rockford, Ill. in an attempt to stall the vote. In March 2011, Walker signed the budget, significantly curtailing collective bargaining rights for union-affiliated public employees. Thousands of protesters gathered in Madison, and labor leaders and Democrats vowed to fight back.
In the months following his signing of the bill, Walker's opponents organized, announcing their intentions to recall the governor and his supporters. They erected a tent city and believed they'd won a surprise victory over a conservative state supreme court judge, before amended voting totals from one county reversed the victory. Walker continued to defend his policy but said he had made mistakes in the political execution. Correction: A previous version of this text inaccurately stated the final results of the Supreme Court race.
Wisconsin Democrats scored a victory in their attempt to unseat Republican state legislators when they defeated six "fake" Democrats running in the party's primaries. Four of the six Republicans targeted for recall held onto their seats in the general election.
Petitions to recall Walker and his lieutenant governor gathered nearly a million signatures each, far exceeding the 500,000 needed. Election officials ordered a recall election.
Democratic candidates are now fighting for the chance to face Walker in the recall election. Amanda Terkel reports: Recalling a sitting governor is no easy task; it's been done just twice in U.S. history. But while Republicans are amassing money and ground support in the next few months to fend off the opposition, Democrats are still figuring out who among them will be the strongest candidate to run against the governor. The process is pitting traditional allies against each other, as the candidates try to show off their pro-labor credentials while also making the case that they are best equipped to beat Walker in the general election. There are currently four Democratic candidates competing in the May primary. Former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett are considered the two frontrunners, with state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) and Secretary of State Doug La Follette also in the race.