DANE, Wis. — Wisconsin's embattled governor officially hit the campaign trail for the first time Tuesday, kicking off a statewide tour by speaking at a farm in front of a tractor. Meanwhile, Democrats filed signatures needed to take him on in a recall election.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker has been airing TV ads since November and traveling the country raising millions of dollars to fight the recall effort. But with the May 5 primary just a month away and the June 5 general election two months out, an intense ground campaign in which Mr. Walker and his opponents try to reach voters personally is under way.
The recall election, spurred by anger over changes Mr. Walker pushed through the Legislature last year to effectively end collective-bargaining rights for most public workers, is the most prominent campaign in the nation after the presidential race. Mr. Walker, a national conservative hero, faces just the third gubernatorial recall election in U.S. history.
With his wife and two teenage sons in tow, Mr. Walker appeared at a farm in Dane, 20 miles north of the capital, Madison. He stood in front of a parked John Deere tractor inside a barn and told about 50 supporters the recall is a test of political courage when it comes to which direction the state will go.
"We're headed in the right direction," Mr. Walker said. "We're turning things around. We're moving Wisconsin forward."
Retired steamfitter Mike Reynders, 65, of Fort Atkinson, held a sign that said, "Union Steamfitters for Walker." Mr. Reynders said he supported Mr. Walker's proposals, which he said were justified to deal with a $3.6 billion budget shortfall.
"I'm a little discouraged," Mr. Reynders said of the recall effort. "I voted for this man to get four years."
Mr. Walker also planned campaign appearances in La Crosse, Eau Claire, Mosinee, Green Bay and Milwaukee. He was joined by Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who's also the target of a recall election, as are four Republican state senators. One targeted senator, Pam Galloway, of Wausau, stepped down, and the election to fill her seat is proceeding.
Two of the state's best-known Democrats, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, are seeking their party's nomination to take on Mr. Walker, as are state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, of Alma, and Secretary of State Doug La Follette. All turned in the required signatures Tuesday.
Ms. Falk also began running a 30-second campaign ad on cable channels across the state, becoming the first of the Democrats to hit the airwaves. The positive ad doesn't mention Mr. Walker but instead focuses on Ms. Falk's record as Dane County executive for 14 years, between 1997 and 2011. A union-backed group already has been airing TV ads supporting Ms. Falk.
Mr. Walker said he had no preference on his opponent in the general election.
"Whoever is on the ballot is secondary to the money that's coming in from the unions out of state," he said.