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Wisconsin: Democrats Mull Response to Republican Dirty Tricks in Recall Elections

wisconsin scott walker

Wait for the sequel.... (photo: jonbloy)

By now, it’s pretty clear that Wisconsin Republicans will run multiple “spoiler” candidates in recall elections set for July 12. Because of the peculiar rules of the recall, these spoiler candidates, basically Republican operatives, would run as Democrats, creating a Democratic primary election on July 12 against the official Democratic challenger. This moves back the general elections against six state Senate Republicans to August 9. There are also three recall elections against Senate Democrats, which will be held on July 19. There are actually multiple announced Republican candidates in those races, so we could see primaries there and general elections on August 16.

The labor coalition We Are Wisconsin released a statement yesterday warning Democrats that this represents more than just a frivolous attack, but without a competent response, it could ruin the recall plans:

Despite how innocuous their unseemly tactics might appear, placing Republican operatives purporting to be Democrats to force Democratic primaries could allow the Republicans to manipulate the process in a way that could severely disadvantage efforts to flip the Wisconsin State Senate.

This includes a number of factors, including being able to make last-minute decisions as to elections for which they’d like to move the general election to August 9th and those they’d like to keep on July 12th. (Remember, the Republicans have merely announced their intent to file fake Democrats in these elections and are collecting signatures, but they have no obligation to follow through. They could easily, for example, stand in the GAB office on June 14th and decide at 4:59pm to leave 3 races of their choosing on July 12th and move 3 races to August 9th.) Allowing them this control and ability to manipulate the calendar would severely damage the chances of taking back control of the Wisconsin State Senate.

Another potential scenario created by the Republican chicanery in the primary that could severely disadvantage Democratic candidates is that Republican incumbents who do not face primary challengers advance automatically to the general election ballot. This creates a scenario where “legitimate” Democratic challengers are exposed to unlimited spending by outside groups and pro-Republican forces, which could cause the “legitimate” Democrats in the race to lose the sham primary. There would be no check on millions of dollars in shady outside money coming in to relentlessly attack “legitimate” Democrats, and full-scale mobilization of Republican resources to turn out their voters in the Democratic primary and to advocate a message such as “if you support Randy Hopper, vote for fake candidate X.”

We Are Wisconsin has a solution, however regrettable, for this: Democrats need to run their own spoiler candidates against Republican incumbents. This would ensure that the recalls definitely take place on August 9, and it would force Republicans to vote in their own primary, to guard against the Democratic spoiler from beating the incumbent. We Are Wisconsin calls it “the most cynical manipulation of the Wisconsin electoral process in our state’s history,” but without fighting cynicism with cynicism, Democrats could find themselves losing the recalls before they have begun.  [cont’d.]

I’m not certain that the spoiler candidates could really win a Democratic primary – if Democrats are favored in the general elections (which they are, in many cases), surely they can boost turnout in the primaries simply by calling attention to this dirty trick. But asymmetrical warfare would certainly be dangerous; the potential for Democratic challengers to have a tough primary against a phantom candidate while the Republican incumbents sit back and fundraise is definitely there. So there’s ample reason to support spoiler candidates in the Republican primaries. And the state Democratic Party reacted to We Are Wisconsin by saying they’re actively considering it, though no decision has been made.

Our goal remains the same: To have these recall elections that have been called for by tens of thousands of Wisconsinites, free of the blatant fraud that the Republicans are engineering in an unprecedented and cynical way.

But we also understand that this fight is too important to have with one hand behind our backs. So we’re exploring all our options right now. This transparent Republican attempt to game the system and throw Democracy under the bus by running these fake candidates won’t go unnoticed by Wisconsinites. But we understand the stakes and we will do what it takes to ensure that this fight takes place on a level playing field.

I have a somewhat radical solution to this: abandon the Democratic primary. Run the strong Democratic challenger candidates in the Republican primary, against the incumbent. Have the general election in the primary. Leave only the “spoiler” candidate in the Democratic primaries. If the Democrat defeats the incumbent, the general election will be between the strong Democratic candidate and some no-name Republican operative.

There are certainly drawbacks to this. The Democrats have already filed for the Democratic primary, and they’d have to start the filing process over (though they only need 400 signatures, so that’s doable). Plus, you’d have to educate voters that they need to vote for a Democrat in the Republican primary. It would be very confusing.

But the Republican strategy all along has been to confuse and manipulate the rules, and this would be the ultimate response. Plus, with the heightened attention on the recalls, I think you could pretty easily educate voters about the scheme, and even make it high-minded. “The Republicans wanted to delay these recalls with a dirty trick. I decided to make my case directly to the voters and challenge (Republican incumbent X) rather than let him hide behind some spoiler candidate. We’re in a fight against a cynical, craven party; it’s time to take it over!”

I highly doubt my scheme will occur; it’s inherently risky. But Democrats have to at least threaten to make Republican primaries, it seems. Maybe they send a “candidate” down to the GAB office to stare down the Republican’s fake candidate, and then both sides can decide whether to escalate or disarm. It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.

CommunityThe Bullpen

Wisconsin: Democrats Mull Response to Republican Dirty Tricks in Recall Elections

By now, it’s pretty clear that Wisconsin Republicans will run multiple “spoiler” candidates in recall elections set for July 12. Because of the peculiar rules of the recall, these spoiler candidates, basically Republican operatives, would run as Democrats, creating a Democratic primary election on July 12 against the official Democratic challenger. This moves back the general elections against six state Senate Republicans to August 9. There are also three recall elections against Senate Democrats, which will be held on July 19. There are actually multiple announced Republican candidates in those races, so we could see primaries there and general elections on August 16.

The labor coalition We Are Wisconsin released a statement yesterday warning Democrats that this represents more than just a frivolous attack, but without a competent response, it could ruin the recall plans:

Despite how innocuous their unseemly tactics might appear, placing Republican operatives purporting to be Democrats to force Democratic primaries could allow the Republicans to manipulate the process in a way that could severely disadvantage efforts to flip the Wisconsin State Senate.

This includes a number of factors, including being able to make last-minute decisions as to elections for which they’d like to move the general election to August 9th and those they’d like to keep on July 12th. (Remember, the Republicans have merely announced their intent to file fake Democrats in these elections and are collecting signatures, but they have no obligation to follow through. They could easily, for example, stand in the GAB office on June 14th and decide at 4:59pm to leave 3 races of their choosing on July 12th and move 3 races to August 9th.) Allowing them this control and ability to manipulate the calendar would severely damage the chances of taking back control of the Wisconsin State Senate.

Another potential scenario created by the Republican chicanery in the primary that could severely disadvantage Democratic candidates is that Republican incumbents who do not face primary challengers advance automatically to the general election ballot. This creates a scenario where “legitimate” Democratic challengers are exposed to unlimited spending by outside groups and pro-Republican forces, which could cause the “legitimate” Democrats in the race to lose the sham primary. There would be no check on millions of dollars in shady outside money coming in to relentlessly attack “legitimate” Democrats, and full-scale mobilization of Republican resources to turn out their voters in the Democratic primary and to advocate a message such as “if you support Randy Hopper, vote for fake candidate X.”

We Are Wisconsin has a solution, however regrettable, for this: Democrats need to run their own spoiler candidates against Republican incumbents. This would ensure that the recalls definitely take place on August 9, and it would force Republicans to vote in their own primary, to guard against the Democratic spoiler from beating the incumbent. We Are Wisconsin calls it “the most cynical manipulation of the Wisconsin electoral process in our state’s history,” but without fighting cynicism with cynicism, Democrats could find themselves losing the recalls before they have begun.

I’m not certain that the spoiler candidates could really win a Democratic primary – if Democrats are favored in the general elections (which they are, in many cases), surely they can boost turnout in the primaries simply by calling attention to this dirty trick. But asymmetrical warfare would certainly be dangerous; the potential for Democratic challengers to have a tough primary against a phantom candidate while the Republican incumbents sit back and fundraise is definitely there. So there’s ample reason to support spoiler candidates in the Republican primaries. And the state Democratic Party reacted to We Are Wisconsin by saying they’re actively considering it, though no decision has been made.

Our goal remains the same: To have these recall elections that have been called for by tens of thousands of Wisconsinites, free of the blatant fraud that the Republicans are engineering in an unprecedented and cynical way.

But we also understand that this fight is too important to have with one hand behind our backs. So we’re exploring all our options right now. This transparent Republican attempt to game the system and throw Democracy under the bus by running these fake candidates won’t go unnoticed by Wisconsinites. But we understand the stakes and we will do what it takes to ensure that this fight takes place on a level playing field.

I have a somewhat radical solution to this: abandon the Democratic primary. Run the strong Democratic challenger candidates in the Republican primary, against the incumbent. Have the general election in the primary. Leave only the “spoiler” candidate in the Democratic primaries. If the Democrat defeats the incumbent, the general election will be between the strong Democratic candidate and some no-name Republican operative.

There are certainly drawbacks to this. The Democrats have already filed for the Democratic primary, and they’d have to start the filing process over (though they only need 400 signatures, so that’s doable). Plus, you’d have to educate voters that they need to vote for a Democrat in the Republican primary. It would be very confusing.

But the Republican strategy all along has been to confuse and manipulate the rules, and this would be the ultimate response. Plus, with the heightened attention on the recalls, I think you could pretty easily educate voters about the scheme, and even make it high-minded. “The Republicans wanted to delay these recalls with a dirty trick. I decided to make my case directly to the voters and challenge (Republican incumbent X) rather than let him hide behind some spoiler candidate. We’re in a fight against a cynical, craven party; it’s time to take it over!”

I highly doubt my scheme will occur; it’s inherently risky. But Democrats have to at least threaten to make Republican primaries, it seems. Maybe they send a “candidate” down to the GAB office to stare down the Republican’s fake candidate, and then both sides can decide whether to escalate or disarm. It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.

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David Dayen

David Dayen