Political foes hoping to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker over his moves to significantly curb union rights in Wisconsin planned a late-night rally and early morning pajama parties to officially kick off the effort.
More than 100 events were planned across the state Tuesday to begin collecting the more than 540,000 signatures required to get a recall election on Wisconsin's ballot next year. Supporters have until Jan. 17 to turn in signatures.
Walker came out swinging, running his first television ad in reaction to the recall during the Green Bay Packers' Monday night football game. The 30-second ad features a school board member from Waukesha speaking in support of the governor, followed by Walker talking directly to the camera.
"Wisconsin's best days are yet to come," Walker says in the ad. "It won't happen overnight, but we are on our way."
Walker's campaign manager Keith Gilkes said the ad was running in all Wisconsin markets except Milwaukee and would be up for at least a week.
Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefsich and at least three Republican state senators also will be targeted for recall next year. Two GOP state senators lost their seats during recall elections this summer.
"I fully anticipate there will be signatures collected in every single Wisconsin county tomorrow," said state Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate. He said he hoped to collect at least 600,000 signatures by the deadline.
The recalls organized by Democrats, labor unions and others, are largely motivated by Republicans' adoption of a Walker-supported law that effectively ended collective bargaining rights for most public workers. Wrangling over the law earlier this year spurred protests that grew as large as 100,000 people and motivated all 14 Democratic state senators to flee for three weeks in an ultimately vain attempt to stop the proposal.
Walker said Monday he remains focused on fulfilling his campaign promise to grow jobs by 250,000 by 2015, when the term he was elected to last year ends. He defended his record and said voters were ready to move forward and didn't want to get stuck in an endless campaign cycle.
"We've made a lot of progress," he said. "It's a new day in Wisconsin."
Governors have only been recalled from office twice in U.S. history, in North Dakota in 1921 and in California when voters removed Gov. Gray Davis from office in 2003.
Walker recall organizers hope to tap ongoing anger over the collective bargaining law and build on momentum from last week's vote rejecting a similar law in Ohio. Wisconsin doesn't allow for a referendum challenging its law to be put on the ballot, so opponents targeted Walker and the three state senators.
"Any recall attempts filed will be nothing more than a shameless power grab by the Democrats and their liberal special interests, and will not deter Republicans from moving the state forward under responsible leadership," Republican Party spokeswoman Nicole Larson said Monday.
One Tuesday march and rally is planned for outside Walker's private residence in the Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa. Organizers said they would gather petition signatures on the lawns of Walker's neighbors. In downtown Madison, a Democratic state lawmaker planned to circulate the petitions in his neighborhood near the Capitol.
This summer nine state senators _ three Democrats and six Republicans _ underwent recall elections spawned by their position on the collective bargaining law. Two Republican incumbents lost, leaving the GOP with a narrow one-vote majority in the state Senate. Republicans also control the Assembly.
The three Republican state senators being targeted for recall by the Democratic Party this time around are Van Wanggaard of Racine, Pam Galloway of Wausau and Terry Moulton of Chippewa Falls, according to Tate. All three defeated Democratic incumbents in 2010.
"I can't be distracted by what they're going to do," Wanggaard said. "If this is going to happen, it's going to happen. We're going to work hard to stay."
Galloway and Moulton had no comment.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he has not ruled out Republicans running as Democrats on the ballot to force a primary election and prolong the process, as was done in the summer recalls. He also said he expected to be targeted for recall, but would wait until when signatures are returned in January to decide whether to go after any Democrats.
But he said others not operating with support of the party may file their own recall petitions sooner.
The Senate races will be fought in their current legislative districts, not under new boundaries set to take effect with the November 2012 elections. Republicans redrew the district maps earlier this year as required every 10 years when new Census data is released.
The new lines are generally more favorable to Republicans, making it more urgent for Democrats to target the incumbents before those boundaries take effect.
The Wisconsin Republican Party announced Monday that it was launching a website to gather details about potential fraud related to recall petition circulation. Party executive director Stephan Thompson encouraged people to submit videos, recordings, photos and other incident reports that he said would be reviewed by party staff as well as retired law enforcement officers.
One Wisconsin Now director Scot Ross said his liberal group also would be closely monitoring the recall process to dispel misinformation and make sure the work of those legally seeking signatures isn't impeded.
Democrats do not yet have an announced candidate to take on Walker should enough signatures be collected to force an election. The earliest such an election could occur, without any expected delays in verifying the signatures or legal challenges, is March 27. Most expect any election would be later in the spring or in the summer.