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Charlie Sykes: Sykes Writes

A Very Bad Night For Da Unions

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Make that a very, very bad, actually horrible night. Not only did their handpicked candidate get crushed in the Democrats' own primary -- after unions dumped $4 million or more into her candidacy -- but the vote had an unexpected twist: Even though he faced only token opposition, and despite some GOP crossovers to vote for Kathleen Falk, Governor Scott Walker got MORE votes than Tom Barrett and Falk COMBINED. How shocking was that? Christian Schneider has been running the numbers:


  In an election in which Walker ran essentially unopposed (and if your challenger is this guy, you are essentially unopposed), Walker garnered about 15,000 more votes than Falk and Barrett combined.  Republican voters had absolutely nothing to vote for, and yet they turned out in droves to send a message.

A bit of context: traditionally, vote totals in contested primaries vastly exceed vote totals in corresponding primaries that are essentially uncontested.  Take, for instance, the 2010 gubernatorial election, when Walker faced off against former congressman Mark Neumann, and Barrett ran for his party’s nomination essentially unopposed.  Over 618,000 people voted in the GOP primary, while only 236,000 voters cast ballots in the Dem primary, where there was nothing at stake.  That same year, Ron Johnson ran in a U.S. Senate GOP primary against several other candidates, while incumbent Russ Feingold was unopposed.  The GOP primary drew 596,000 voters, while Feingold garnered only 224,000 votes.  The Republican gubernatorial and senate primaries drew 263 percent and 266 percent more voters, respectively, than the Democrats.

The same effect traditionally occurs for Democratic primaries.  In 2002, a Democratic gubernatorial primary featuring, coincidentally, Tom Barrett, Kathleen Falk, and eventual winner Jim Doyle, drew 554,000 votes.  Incumbent Republican governor Scott McCallum, running virtually unopposed, saw 230,000 votes in his primary – giving Democrats a 241 percent vote advantage.

Yet last night’s primary saw something very different.  Last night’s Democratic turnout for a contested primary (Falk, Barrett, and lesser candidates Doug La Follette, Kathleen Vinehout, and Walker’s liberal primary challenger) only surpassed Walker’s vote total by eight percent.  Furthermore, the Democratic vote total was likely padded by Republicans who crossed over to vote for Kathleen Falk, sensing she would be an easier challenger for Walker to defeat in June.  (In the absence of exit polling data, we will never know how many people were in this category; but in the days leading up to the primary, it was a very real debate among Republicans.)

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