WI Rise Up: Why Next Week’s Recall Matters for National Politics

Liz Novak

A photo of last February's protests at the Capitol from Art In These Times' exhibit, WI Rise Up.

Ahead of next Tuesday’s recall in Wisconsin, Liz Novak will be blogging about the election here on Uprising. Liz worked in Wisconsin state politics from 2008 - 2011 and managed Wisconsin State Senator Jim Holperin’s recall campaign last summer. 

As next week’s landmark Wisconsin recall election approaches, the Democratic establishment is still struggling to grasp its significance. In a lackluster attempt to ward off criticism that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has failed to commit support for the recall effort, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) is campaigning for gubernatorial candidate Mayor Tom Barrett in Wisconsin today.

It’s odd that Wasserman Schultz has staged a visit to Wisconsin — including hosting a fundraiser in Milwaukee for Mayor Barrett — five days before the recall election, when in an interview on C-SPAN’s Newsmakers” on Sunday she dismissed the importance of the state-level battle.

When asked by Washington Post Political Reporter Felicia Sonmez about whether there would be any repercussions if Democrats end up losing the Wisconsin governor’s election, Wasserman Schultz blunt response was, I think, honestly, there aren’t going to be any repercussions.”

She went on to say:

It’s an election that’s based in Wisconsin. It’s an election that I think is important nationally because Scott Walker is an example of how extreme the tea party has been when it comes to the policies that they have pushed the Republicans to adopt. But I think it’ll be, at the end of the day, a Wisconsin-based election, and like I said, across the rest of the country and including in Wisconsin, President Obama is ahead.

Wasserman Schultz’ perception of Wisconsin confirms, once again, how out of touch the DNC is with the world outside of Washington. Here are four reasons why the recall election does, in fact, matter greatly for national politics.

First, if the Republicans turn out voters in droves for Governor Walker on June 5 and win, won’t this serve as a monumental enthusiasm boost, and talking point, for Republicans across the nation? Such enthusiasm is sure to carry over into November. In Wasserman Schultz’s world, Republicans could win a historically significant election and apparently not capitalize on the moment. Yeah, right.

Second, has she forgotten that the DNC is trying to retain the Senate? If Scott Walker wins a statewide election on June 5, we may as well consider the open Senate seat vacated by four-term Democratic Senator Herb Kohl a lost cause for Democrats.

Third, if the DNC and Obama for America (OFA) claim to be heavily invested in the recall election and turnout efforts, as Wasserman Schultz said earlier in the Newsmakers” interview and repeated today in Milwaukee, they need to show it in order to energize the Democratic base heading into November. Why doesn’t President Obama make a trip to Wisconsin to boost voter turnout? He is likely banking on his sway and ability to turn out college students and minorities to help win Wisconsin. What’s the harm in getting these constituencies motivated early while also showing solidarity with the thousands of recall activists (read: potential Obama volunteers)?

Finally, if Mayor Tom Barrett wins on June 5 with turnout approaching near presidential levels, isn’t this a clear indication that grassroots activism can still trump massive amounts of money? President Obama could use the thousands of recall volunteers who have been driving this campaign to help him win in November. Perhaps he should put a hold on the lavish fundraisers with Hollywood’s elite and find the value in reaching out to present and past supporters.

Unfortunately, the DNC and OFA are too shortsighted to see the long-term effects (meaning several months hence) of this recall election. The real elephant in the room is if Governor Walker can pull this off, will the rumors be true: Walker for President?

Liz Novak is In These Times’ Development Director.
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