MADISON, Wis. | Embattled Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker may not face a recall vote until next summer, but he’s already campaigning to keep his job in the face of a major challenge by organized labor and the Democratic Party.
With petitions for a recall election now circulating, Mr. Walker is running television advertising defending his record during his first 11 months in office.
Soon, Republican volunteers will begin going door to door, making phone calls and writing letters to the editor arguing that his most controversial initiative, which stripped public employee unions of most of their collective-bargaining rights, was justified by the state’s fiscal problems.
The Walker recall effort, which will be one of the most fiercely contested races in the 2012 national campaign, will serve as a gauge of the public’s support for confrontational measures used by new Republican governors to balance state budgets. In only two weeks, petitioners here are on pace to gather more than enough signatures to put Mr. Walker on the ballot against a yet-to-be-determined opponent.
Mr. Walker’s backers are trying to take lessons from the only two successful gubernatorial recalls in U.S. history - against California Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 and North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier in 1921.
Those governors were too slow to fight back, said David Schecter, a political scientist at California State University at Fresno, who has studied recall campaigns. Their races were mostly lost before the signatures were submitted.
“There’s this momentum that builds, and once it builds, it’s very difficult for things to reverse,” Mr. Schecter said. “The signature stage is really the election before the election. In that stage, voters are letting their choices be known.”
Mr. Walker will try to stop the recall election, or delay it for months, by challenging the validity of signatures that must be turned in by Jan. 17.
Recall supporters must gather 540,000 names of registered voters. State elections board workers will manually review all signatures for mistakes or missing information. Republican Party officials said they also will scour the petitions, but would not describe how.
The Republican Party is bolstering its grass-roots organization across the state, said the party’s executive director, Stephan Thompson. He said he is preparing for an election even though the party will fight to prevent one.
“I have little doubt the Democrats are going to be able to get the signatures,” Mr. Thompson said. Recall organizers reported collecting 105,000 signatures in just four days.
The campaign is expected to cost far more than the $44 million spent on nine recall efforts targeting Wisconsin state senators this summer.
The night before the petitions began circulating, Mr. Walker released a television ad with a school board member praising his collective-bargaining law. Mr. Walker also argues that other budget-balancing moves, like cutting public-education funding and Medicaid, were necessary to deal with a $3.6 billion shortfall.
Mr. Walker emphasizes that he balanced the budget without laying off public employees or raising sales or income taxes. Also, property taxes are scheduled to drop on average statewide.