Next week's recall election in Wisconsin between Gov. Scott Walker and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett sets up not only a high-profile battle between the two candidates but a side skirmish between Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, chairmen of their parties' governors associations and rising national political stars.
Mr. McDonnell, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, had been scheduled to fly to Wisconsin Tuesday to attend an evening fundraiser for Mr. Walker, but his trip was cancelled because of bad weather. He and the GOP appear increasingly bullish about Mr. Walker's chances.
"It's all about getting out the vote now — people have already decided," Mr. McDonnell said on MSNBC Tuesday morning before flying to the Badger State. "There are a handful of undecideds, and they're probably on vacation. The rest of the people are decided, and now it's about who gets who to the polls. I think Scott wins narrowly, and then I do think he understands that his job is to govern."
Mr. O'Malley, though, said he was "very excited" about Mr. Barrett's chances and plans to visit Wisconsin before next week's election.
"The latest polls show that this a very tight race," he said. "The Democratic Governors Association is in with both feet, and that's in a state where we don't have an incumbent."
Phil Cox, executive director of the RGA, acknowledged the significance of the race for Mr. McDonnell and Mr. O'Malley.
"This is certainly the most significant electoral stage they've been on since either of them became chair of their respective organizations," said Mr. Cox, one of Mr. McDonnell's chief political advisers. "So yeah, I think it's important. And it's an election with implications beyond just the state of Wisconsin. I think the winning side will have momentum going into the next stage of the national campaign."
Mr. O'Malley said he hadn't really thought about any personal stake for him in the race.
"Our goal is to elect Democratic governors," he said. "Certainly, this is an opportunity for a pickup. I can tell you that we think in four-year cycles as Democratic governors. We know there aren't as many seats up this year as there will be in 2014."
Indeed, the recall election is the first of its kind in Wisconsin, so it may be difficult to glean any implications for the fall, either for the state — which Republicans are hoping to put into play as a bona fide battleground — or the country in the fall. President Obama carried Wisconsin in 2008 by 12 points, but that was followed by a 2010 wave that swept Mr. Walker and a flood of Republicans across the country into office.
"I think everyone should take a deep breath after the results from the recall," said Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report. "I think Wisconsin was a polarized state before June 5, and I think it's going to be a polarized state after June 5."
A flurry of polls were recently released, most giving a slight-to-moderate edge to Mr. Walker, who has drawn heavy criticism from public sector unions for shepherding a move to sharply curbtheir collective bargaining rights in 2010.
The RGA has already poured more than $8 million into the effort, dwarfing the $3.2 million the DGA has contributed.
That's no accident, said Mr. Cox.
"I think RGA vs. DGA has been very consistent throughout the past few cycles — we've been able to deploy significant resources into the campaigns, and you've seen the results," he said. "Gov. McDonnell and [RGA Vice Chairman New Jersey] Gov. [Chris] Christie deserve a lot of credit for getting off to a very strong start this year."
The RGA raised $12.2 million in the first three months of this year compared to the DGA's $8 million — a figure that also included $1.4 million from an associated super PAC and 501(c)4 organization. The RGA's figure did not include money from its associated agencies.
Mr. Gonzales said he didn't want to discredit the RGA's role but thatmany factors are at work in the race — Mr. Walker has raised an eye-popping $30 million-plus on his own, for example, and some Democrats are fretting about potential political fallout for holding the election so close to the presidential contest in the fall.
• David Hill contributed to this report.
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