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Enthusiasm To Recall Wis. Governor May Be Waning


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. In just two days, voters in Wisconsin will decide whether Scott Walker will be the nation's third governor ever to be recalled from office. Passions have run high on both sides since Walker took office and rolled back the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions. But as NPR's David Schaper reports, enthusiasm for the recall is waning.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: This is where this long recall battle began 16 months ago.


SCHAPER: I'm standing outside of the Wisconsin State Capitol Building in Madison, where in February of 2011, tens of thousands of people protested Republican Governor Scott Walker's actions to strip almost all collective bargaining rights from public school teachers, prison guards, snow plow drivers and most other public employees in the state.

ERIN COURTENAY: We're avid supporters of the recall.

SCHAPER: Erin Courtenay works with a conservation group in Madison and is one of the many who joined union workers in those rallies at the capitol. She says she's seen that movement transition from protests to organizing recall petitions to mobilizing for this election. But after 16 months of bitterly divisive politics at the capitol and grassroots level, the enthusiasm to recall Governor Walker may be waning a bit - and that worries Courtenay.

COURTENAY: I can't put my finger on it, but there's this - it's not complacency but it's kind of related to that. It's this sense of dread that kind of, you know, we had hoped during - that's the thing - during the protests, that's part of why it's exciting. You think you maybe you can make a change, but right now you're kind of scared.

SCHAPER: Scared that if Walker wins, he'll be emboldened to push his agenda even harder, says Courtenay. So, to rev up the base, Democrats brought out a big gun.

MAYOR TOM BARRETT: Please join me in giving a warm, warm Wisconsin welcome for President Bill Clinton. Let's hear it for him.

SCHAPER: Still a rock star to many Democrats, former President Clinton campaigned with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett Friday, warning that a Walker victory would send this message:

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Divide and conquer works. You tell them, no. You tell them Wisconsin has never been about that, never will be about that, by electing Tom Barrett governor. Thank you.

SCHAPER: But few other national Democratic Party figures have weighed in on this recall race, certainly not President Obama, who kept a distance even when hosting his own campaign events just over the borders in Minnesota and Illinois Friday. In contrast, the Republicans are rolling out their rising stars on behalf of walker.

GOVERNOR NIKKI HALEY: Thank you very much. Hey guys, how are you.

SCHAPER: Including South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.

HALEY: I am absolutely thrilled to be in Wisconsin, but I got to tell you, as soon as I got off the plane, I go, oh my god, it's winter here.

SCHAPER: Campaigning in a Milwaukee suburb Friday, Haley warmed things up by praising Walker for taking on unions to balance the state's budget. And she told supporters they now need to reward Walker's courage.

HALEY: That if you can keep his back, you are showing governors like me that when we fight for you, you will have our back and that will help every governor in the country.

SCHAPER: On the floor of the Quad Graphics Printing Plant, where Haley and Walker campaigned, accountant Jim Weiss says he and other Republicans are even more fired up to vote for walker now than when they elected him in 2010.

JIM WEISS: Those that are for Scott and what he's been doing is they definitely have been at fever pitch. It's been tremendous. It's tremendous. I've never - I personally have never come out this much in my political life.

SCHAPER: The most recent Marquette University Law School poll shows more than 90 percent of Walker supporters say they'll definitely vote Tuesday to keep him office. The poll shows not quite as much passion against Walker, with only about 80 percent of Tom Barrett's supporters saying they're certain that they'll vote. And that gap in enthusiasm could make the difference in this historic recall election. David Schaper, NPR News, Milwaukee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.