John Nichols writes that there’s nothing to worry about from Scott Walker’s fairly large vote support in this week’s recall primaries in Wisconsin. Walker didn’t have a serious challenger on the ballot and there was a contested race for the Democratic nominee on the other side. And yet Walker came close to outpolling all the Democrats in the race. But Nichols said that Walker really tried to beat the vote totals of the Democrats and came up short:

Walker had pulled out all the stops seeking to run up his Republican primary total, spending heavily on television and direct mail, making dozens of official and campaign stops across the state in the days prior to the primary and devoting hours of his time Tuesday to get-out-the-vote appearances on right-wing talk radio programs in Milwaukee, Madison and across the state. The hope was that he could gain a higher vote total than the Democrats—and with it bragging rights going into an intense general election campaign with Barrett.

Walker got a lot of Republicans to the poils, winning 626,538 votes—almost twice what he received in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary […] In many states, at many times, the turnout for Walker would be striking. But, in Wisconsin, where pollsters and political observers see the highest level of political intensity and polarization in the country, Walker’s aides and allies made no secret of the fact that they wanted desperately to have the governor outpoll the Democrats.

It didn’t happen.

Walker’s 626,538 was far behind the 665,436 received by Barrett, Falk, Vinehout and La Follette.

That seems a little too close for comfort for me. It shows the tremendous engagement in this recall on both sides. We’re already seeing it on the air in Wisconsin with more money thrown at this race than perhaps any other non-Presidential race this year. Walker has a war chest in the tens of millions. And the outside money will be incalculable.

Dave Weigel was up in Wisconsin for the primaries and he writes that Tom Barrett is more like a cipher for anti-Walker feelings than a candidate that everyone in Wisconsin can get behind. I don’t think his on-again, off-again relations with the labor community up there will matter – they are desperate to knock off Walker, regardless of the candidate employed to do that. But Weigel doesn’t seem to think that Barrett inspires much good feelings:

“We cannot fix Wisconsin as long as Scott Walker is the governor,” he said. “Scott Walker started an ideological civil war in this state that’s divided this state like it’s never been divided before.” He would use the phrase “ideological civil war” three more times. “Family members shy away from talking to family members because it’s become too bitter. It does not have to be that way!”

Barrett didn’t actually mention Act 10, the ostensible reason why Walker was facing recall. He didn’t mention “collective bargaining,” either. His message, to a national audience, was that Scott Walker was too divisive and “decided he’s got to be the right wing’s rock star.” And the left wasn’t going to try and beat him with a rock star of its own.

Again, I don’t know how important this is. A recall is almost by definition a referendum on the incumbent. And anti-Walker folks have a litany of particulars – the lack of jobs, collective bargaining, Walkergate, equal pay, you name it – to rile up the troops. But the right is definitely riled up themselves, so a small sliver of voters will determine the outcome in Wisconsin. The next four weeks should be interesting.

David Dayen

David Dayen