Wisconsin News

Gov. Walker holds on to his lead in poll, spending

LA CROSSE, Wis. -- Campaign donations are pouring in, with just days to go before the recall election.

The latest finance reports show the candidates for governor raised almost $10 million in just five weeks.

The latest Marquette Law School poll numbers are out too and they show Gov. Scott Walker still holds his lead over his challenger, with 52 percent to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's 45 percent.

Walker has a seven-point lead according to this poll, but it's still a very close race. The margin of error in the poll is about 4 percent, so his lead falls just short of statistical significance.

That means every vote counts, and the candidates are spending millions to attract voters' attention.

While Walker holds onto his advantage in the polls, he's got an even bigger advantage when it comes to funding. The final campaign finance reports to be released before the election show the governor has raised more than $30 million since he took office, including nearly $6 million in the last month.

Compare that to Barrett, who has raised about $4 million since he entered the race, including $3.4 million in the last month.

But it's not just Walker and Barrett who are shelling out the big bucks in this race.

"The fact is, this is a big money race. It's got national importance. A lot of high-stakes conservatives, labor unions, out-of-state people are very interested in this election. And like a horse race, they're willing to put their money where their mouth is and see if they can affect the outcome," said UW-La Crosse political science professor Joe Heim.


Outside interest groups are spending tens of millions of dollars, making it the most expensive statewide election in Wisconsin's history.

"Spending through the third week in May was somewhere between $55 million and $60 million. Somewhere between $43 million and $45 million of that was spent on the Republican side, $10 million to $15 million on the Democratic side. It's roughly a 3-1 spending edge for Republicans in this race," said Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Executive Director Mike McCabe.

If the Republicans are outspending the Democrats so significantly, why is the race still so close?

"People have pretty much decided they either love Scott Walker and they'll move heaven and earth to try to keep him in office, or they hate Scott Walker and they can't stand the idea of him being governor for another minute. And I'm not sure ads are going to really change those minds," said McCabe.

So why would the candidates keep raising all this campaign cash?

"I think this campaign spending is a lot like a nuclear arms race. There's sort of mutually assured destruction. There's a madness that's part of this. Campaign managers, campaign consultants on both sides see the other side spending millions, and they figure they have to counter with millions in spending of their own, and it just escalates," said McCabe.

Heim said it's likely all the money has less to do with swaying voters, and more to do with getting them charged up enough to make it out to voting booth.

"Get out the vote. That's all that this is. If one side's got a better ground game to get their vote out, and the other side doesn't, that probably will make the difference in this election," said Heim.

The current numbers on campaign contributions only go up to May 21. That means it won't be known how much the candidates raised in the final weeks until the election is over.

Walker's latest campaign finance report shows nearly two-thirds of the money he's raised in the last month came from out-of-state donors. State election officials have not yet released reports of how much of Barrett's money is coming from outside Wisconsin.

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