Wisconsin voters set the stage Tuesday for a bitter rematch between Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
Walker narrowly defeated Barrett in 2010, and their next race—technically a recall election aimed at Walker—will take place June 5. In some ways, the showdown illustrates how Wisconsin has become ground zero in the battle over how far conservatives can push their agenda in the face of determined Democratic opposition.
Walker, endorsed Tuesday by the Republican party, has proven to be one of the most polarizing politicians in the country. His most controversial initiative was to take away many of the collective bargaining rights of state workers. This generated weeks of angry protests and a prolonged confrontation in the legislature, making Walker a hero to conservatives across the country, but an ogre to Democrats and union activists.
Polls indicate that Barrett, chosen Tuesday as the Democratic candidate, leads Walker by one percentage point.
"We will not be able to fix Wisconsin as long as Scott Walker is governor," Barrett told MSNBC Tuesday. "This is going to be a wild and wooly 27 days."
Barrett argued that Walker has cost Wisconsin jobs and has begun an "ideological civil war" by going after organized labor as part of his effort to be a "rock star" in conservative circles. Barrett said he expects Walker to vastly outspend him and to blanket the state with negative TV ads that amount to "30-second drive-by shootings."
Walker says liberal extremists have targeted him for defeat. "The powerful special interests don't like the fact that I stood up and got in the way of their firm grip on the taxpayers' money," he told a rally in Waukesha Tuesday. "I stand with the taxpayers of this state and I'm going to continue to stand with them."
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" and is the author of "The Presidency" in the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.