MADISON, Wis. — The Democrats' hope for ousting Scott Walker is a low-key, well-liked Milwaukee mayor whose last brush with fame came when he interceded in a fight outside the Wisconsin State Fair and got badly beaten with a tire iron.
With less than a month before the June 5 recall election, it will take all the political muscle Tom Barrett can muster to knock off the Wisconsin governor in a rematch of the 2010 race.
In the 18 months since the two men last appeared on the ballot together, the governor's foes collected more than 900,000 signatures to force the election, which is only the third gubernatorial recall in American history. Now it's up to Mr. Barrett to bring home enough votes to reverse his defeat.
Turnout in Tuesday's primary topped 30 percent, the highest for a primary in Wisconsin since 1952. Mr. Barrett, who defeated three Democratic opponents, gave an impassioned speech to supporters, saying he would heal Wisconsin after more than a year of turmoil.
"He's fired up," said longtime friend Kathy Smith, who was neighbors with Mr. Barrett for 11 years around the 1990s. "He's just got this fire in his belly. He wants it."
It won't be easy.
Since defeating Mr. Barrett, Mr. Walker has become a Republican star and a hot draw at party events nationwide, and he's shattered fundraising records by bringing in $25 million, compared with less than $1 million for Mr. Barrett. He's also blanketed mailboxes, phones and television airwaves with ads attacking Mr. Barrett.
Mr. Walker frames the race as being more about political courage than his political future.
Mr. Barrett also knows a thing or two about courage, both political and personal. His first race — a 1982 Democratic primary for state Assembly — ended in a 39-vote loss. In his most recent contest — the April re-election for mayor — Mr. Barrett won with 70 percent of the vote.
A lifelong Milwaukeean, the 58-year-old lives in the same neighborhood where he grew up and attends the same Catholic church of his youth. Like Mr. Walker, he's spent nearly all of his adult life in public service — including eight years in the Legislature, 10 in Congress and eight as Milwaukee mayor.
Along the way, he lost two races for governor — the 2002 Democratic primary and the contest against Mr. Walker.
During the 2010 race, doubters complained that Mr. Barrett was too laid back to win and not passionate enough. He tried to fight that perception this year with a campaign ad showing him repeatedly yelling "Pow!" when talking about Mr. Walker's proposals. His primary night speech also showed a revved-up Mr. Barrett rarely seen in the last race.