MILWAUKEE -- Wisconsin voters go to the polls Tuesday to decide whether to reelect one of the most polarizing politicians in the country, choosing between two starkly opposite visions of how to run the state. Symbolically, the election's importance is second only to the presidential contest, and both gubernatorial candidates -- Gov. Scott Walker (R) and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) -- made sure their supporters understood the stakes one last time on Monday.
"So here we are. It's the last 28 hours," said Barrett at his final major rally. "It's like a heavyweight boxing match. And in this corner, you've got Scott Walker with his millions and millions of out-of-state dollars. And in this corner, you've got Tom Barrett, and he's got YOU."
"We've only got a few hours left. The polls open tomorrow morning -- just a few hours from now. And in less than 22 hours, the polls close," said Walker at his final event. "The polls show us ahead. I was just up in the shadow of Lambeau Field this evening, and I said -- you know, I'm borrowing from the Packers -- 'We can't spike the ball on the 10-yard line. We've got to get it all the way through to the end zone. ... The truth is on our side."
Barrett's rally on Monday was at the Local 72 UAW Hall in Kenosha, Wis., where union members were serving cheese bratwursts before the event started and there were occasional outbursts of "This is what democracy looks like!" and other chants. Walker's, held later in the evening, was at the American Serb Memorial Hall in south Milwaukee -- a banquet facility with eight chandeliers, a professional sound system and a slightly dressier crowd.
"This is not about the word 'I.' This is about the word 'we,'" said Barrett in his pitch to supporters. "We are in this together. We are in this together to reclaim our state. To make sure that our children and their grandchildren and their grandchildren can be here. So we can have a middle class in a state we're proud of. This is about our values. It's about Wisconsin values. That's why we need each other. That's why we have to keep working. That's why we have to win this election tomorrow."
Barrett was preceded by several speakers, including state Sen. Robert Wirch (D-Pleasant Prairie), Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) and former Wisconsin Democratic senator Russ Feingold, who has been one of Barrett's most high-profile surrogates.
At Walker's event, the only other speaker was Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch (R), who also faces a recall. On stage with them were their families. (Barrett said his wife could not be with him at the UAW event because she had to work, since she is a teacher.)
Barrett's speech hit many of the lines from his stump speeches -- such as slamming Walker for being a "rock star" of the far right -- but he also brought it back around to the labor movement, reminding voters of what started the polarization in the state.
"I've never seen my wife shaken. Never, in our 21 years of marriage, until last year. She was shaken last year," Barrett said. "I have to tell why. ... She was visibly rattled because she felt that her vocation -- not her job -- her vocation, was being attacked by this governor and his allies. ... Her life's mission is to work with children to prepare for the future of this state. And she said to me, 'Why would I tell anybody to go into education, the way they're treating me?'"
Walker kept the focus on jobs in his speech, as he does at most of his campaign events, arguing that his controversial reforms were successful.
"You know what the biggest concern for employers is?" asked Walker. "The biggest thing that's holding people back from creating even more jobs? The recall! The recall! In survey after survey after survey, it's the recall. And I can understand why. I spent the last year and a half, nearly every day, visiting farms, factories and small businesses, all across Wisconsin. And I hear what I see in these surveys. Employers like the direction we're headed. They like the opportunity to add more jobs in a state that's willing to work with them, but they're scared to death about going backwards and not forward."
At the end of the Walker event, a couple dozen protesters showed up, banging a buckets and shouting, "Tax, tax, tax the rich!" and "Recall Walker!" Rally attendees quickly tried to drown them out, with shouts of "Walker!" and "We are the 1 percent!" Several people hurled insults at the protesters, telling them to take a bath or get a job. A Walker supporter attempted to silence his fellow conservatives, telling them that they were making Walker backers look bad in front of the media.
The protest broke up without incident, and group members said they planned to meet in Pere Marquette Park in Milwaukee on Wednesday to continue pushing the "agenda of the 99 percent." Hannah Engber, one of the participants, said several of the protesters were part of Occupy Milwaukee and others were pulled from various progressive groups.
Both Barrett and Walker will vote at 7 a.m. Central time on Tuesday. Barrett will be in Milwaukee at the Milwaukee French Immersion polling place and Walker will be at the Jefferson School in Wauwatosa. Barrett then has canvassing events in Racine and Milwaukee, before his election night party in downtown Milwaukee. Walker is touring businesses in Green Bay and Wausau. His election night party will be in Waukesha.
Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board, which oversees state elections, predicts that turnout could be from 60 percent to 65 percent. That means nearly 3 million people could cast absentee or regular ballots -- more than in the 2010 elections, but not quite as high as in the 2008 presidential race.
More than 206,000 Wisconsinites had requested absentee ballots by noon on Monday.
In addition to the marquee gubernatorial recall, there are five other elections on Tuesday. The GOP lieutenant governor is fighting to hold onto her seat, as are three GOP state senators. One other state senate seat is open, after Sen. Pam Galloway (R-Wausau) decided to resign when it became clear she was going to face a recall. If Democrats win any one of the state senate seats, they will gain the majority in the chamber.
The U.S. Department of Justice is sending a team of federal observers to the city of Milwaukee to ensure compliance with the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in the electoral process. Wisconsin's Department of Justice is also sending a team of officials to 12 cities in an effort to look out for voter fraud.
Below, more on the history of the Walker recall effort:
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.
After a tough primary, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett bested three other Democratic candidates in an early May primary. HuffPost's Amanda Terkel reports: Barrett beat former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk, Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) in the Democratic primary. The Associated Press called the race for Barrett shortly before 10 p.m. Eastern time. Barrett's victory set up a rematch with Gov. Walker, who he lost to by about 5 percentage points in 2010.
HuffPost's Mark Blumenthal reports: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) holds a narrow lead over his Democratic challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, in the run up to Tuesday's recall election, according to the final poll on the race conducted by Public Policy Polling, a firm affiliated with the Democratic Party. PPP's automated, recorded-voice survey, conducted among 1,226 likely voters over the weekend, puts Walker at 50 percent support, 3 percentage points ahead of Barrett's 47 percent. Fifteen surveys on the recall election have been released over the past month, and while most have produced close results, all but one have given Walker the advantage. Independent polls have generally given Walker a bigger lead than the handful of publicly released internal polls sponsored by the Barrett campaign or its Democratic allies.
After a whirlwind day of voting that featured swarmed polling places around the state, media outlets called the race for Walker less than an hour after polls closed in the Badger State. Walker's lieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch, was also declared victorious in her recall contest.