Campaign styles clash in Wis. recall race

AP News
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Posted: May 25, 2012 5:58 PM
Campaign styles clash in Wis. recall race

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his opponent, Democrat Tom Barrett, are locked together in a fiercely fought recall campaign, but that's where the similarity ends. They don't campaign the same way.

As his historic recall election nears on June 5, Walker delivers his message to voters from a safe distance. His campaign carefully limits all public access and holds events mostly at his campaign offices or at businesses that can restrict who comes in. Most appearances are announced with only a few hours' notice.

Meanwhile, underdog Barrett spends precious campaign time mingling with the masses and making the rounds of farmers markets, coffee shops and parades in search of votes. His campaign publicizes events with the hope of attracting as many people as possible.

The tactics reflect two well-established political strategies and signal the state of the race with less than two weeks to go. Walker holds a slim lead, according to recent polls, built with the financial support of conservatives nationwide who rallied after labor unions helped organize the recall over his anti-union legislation. Walker wants to minimize risks and avoid protesters. Barrett, who won the Democratic nomination to oppose Walker only this month, hopes to strike a spark.

Walker's advisers "want him in a sealed-off, tightly controlled, non-controversial setting because they don't want to rile people up," said Democratic pollster Paul Maslin, a veteran of recall campaigns who worked for California Gov. Gray Davis when he fought unsuccessfully against a recall in 2003. "He can't do retail any more. Like it or not, he's graduated to another level of politics. He just became the symbol of a much bigger fight."

Barrett referred to Walker's style as "clearly a bunker mentality. You can sort of see the formula _ go to a business, talk to the CEO, selected employees, poof, you're on the road."

Walker's spokeswoman, Ciara Matthews, declined comment on the campaign's strategy. Walker is now focused on turning out his supporters to vote rather than winning over the tiny percentage of voters who remain undecided, said Mark Graul, a campaign strategist who ran Republican Mark Green's campaign for governor in 2006.

"Both candidates are doing a lot of things to play to their base, to motivate their voters, because that's what this election is all about," he said.

Nevertheless, the change in Walker is remarkable for a candidate once eager to connect personally with voters and who revels in rapturous receptions at Republican gatherings. He's good at making small talk and, when he ran for governor in 2010 as Milwaukee County executive, appeared at rallies all over the state.

Walker is now a presence mostly in the television advertising saturating the airwaves and brochures arriving in the mail.

He launched his campaign in the recall race with an event on a remote farm where only invited guests and credentialed media were allowed to enter. There would be no awkward questions from unknown attendees.

On Thursday, when Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal came to Wisconsin to co-host a fundraiser with Walker, the campaign provided only four hours notice of the event, which was held in Walker's "victory center" office in conservative Milwaukee suburb of Waukesha. A handful of Walker opponents still found out and showed up outside to protest.

Avoiding protestors has been a priority for Walker ever more 100,000 demonstrators thronged the state Capitol after the Legislature passed a measure stripping public employees of collective bargaining rights. At the height of the tumult he and Republican lawmakers took to coming and going from the Capitol through underground tunnels with a police escort.

For Barrett to win he has to motivate voters who supported President Barack Obama in 2008 but didn't show up for him in his 5-point loss to Walker in 2010.

Barrett's makes regular public appearances, including a recent stop at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee student union, where he was greeted by a throng of college-age students, a key demographic he will need if he hopes to beat Walker. Barrett supporters encouraged anyone who wanted to meet the mayor to stick around.

"By definition, any Democrat was going to have to go out to the people more," said Maslin, who served as Barrett's pollster during the 2010 campaign and has advised Democratic candidates in state and national races. "At this stage of the game, the emphasis for Barrett is to be among people, to be exhorting people to vote, to try and gin up every last bit of excitement on the Democratic side."

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Associated Press writer Dinesh Ramde contributed to this report from Milwaukee.