Wisconsin Democrats express growing confidence that they will produce enough signatures by Tuesday's deadline to force a recall vote on Republican Gov. Scott Walker, but Mr. Walker's fate — and the ultimate outcome of the state's bare-knuckled political brawl — remain very much in doubt.
Mr. Walker, a conservative darling, earned the ire of Democrats across the state and the nation, many of them union supporters, after he lead a successful effort last year to end collective-bargaining rights for state workers.
Now, as United Wisconsin and other anti-Walker activists are jubilantly reporting that they have succeeded in gathering more than the 540,208 signatures needed to trigger a recall, they find themselves with a double quandary for the actual election: outpaced significantly in fundraising and also without a candidate.
Several Wisconsin Democrats have been mentioned as possible challengers for Mr. Walker. They include state Sen. Tim Cullen and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who lost to Mr. Walker in 2010, but the movement's need to coalesce around one person becomes more crucial as election season kicks off in earnest.
But for Mr. Walker, his potential opponent is of little importance.
"The person doesn't matter. It will be the big government union bosses here in Washington who will pour limitless amounts of money into our state. We're going to have to be ready to get the truth out and counter that," Mr. Walker said earlier this month at an American Enterprise Institute forum in Washington.
Mr. Walker is not the only person facing a recall; he likely will be joined on a future ballot by Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch.
The state's Government Accountability Board must judge the validity of all recall-petition signatures - the separate ones for Mr. Walker and Mrs. Kleefisch, and also those against four state senators. That process could take months to complete and could trigger protracted legal challenges by pro-Walker forces who have defended his fiscal prowess in balancing the state's budget and standing strong against union forces amid furious protests.
Although the recall signatures were gathered quickly, some wonder whether the Badger State will be worn down with voter fatigue amid the constant electioneering by the time any vote actually occurs, which could come this summer, possibly as early as June.
"For most voters in our state, and even those who aren't particularly political one way or the other, most people are tired of elections," Mr. Walker said. "I think most people are tired of all the attack ads."
Record turnout occurred for a state Supreme Court election last April and several recall elections against state senators last summer, which saw about $44 million in fundraising, much of that money coming from out-of-state donors.
The state's voters will face multiple trips to the ballot box this year. A possible Democratic primary to pick a recall challenger could occur as early as May. The state's primary for federal elections is set for August, with a key U.S. Senate seat up for grabs and four candidates seeking the Republican slot in a race to replace retiring four-term Sen. Herb Kohl, a Democrat.
"It's going to be very, very busy," said Marquette law professor and poll director Charles Franklin. "Fatigue is an obvious possible outcome. I think an alternative is a fired-up electorate where the parties, as a result of all this organizing for the recall, actually get a head start in developing good voter lists and good contacts.
"It may be paradoxically that potentially, despite the fatigue factor, both parties end up with good voter databases, with their leanings and turnout," he said. "I just don't see evidence of fatigue yet."
Mr. Franklin pointed out a peculiarity of the state's election law that allows candidates facing recall to raise unlimited contributions during the recall process. He notes that Mr. Walker has been traveling and has posted about $5 million in contributions thus far.
"It's one area that gives the governor tremendous advantage during this period," he said.
But Democrats said they are not put off by the fundraising differences. Marty Bell, president of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, told the Associated Press that it dovetails with their strategy.
"It forced Walker and his minions to run on their record and issues rather than to run against an announced Democratic candidate," Mr. Bell told AP. "This was a part of the rationale through the whole recall petition collection process ... . And we win with some resources, but we don't see matching him dollar for dollar."
Successful gubernatorial recalls are rare. Former California Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, was recalled in 2003 and replaced by film star Arnold Schwarzenegger.
• Ben Wolfgang contributed to this report.
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