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UW Election Eye 2012

Campaign 2012 through the eyes of UW faculty and students

May 31, 2012 at 10:09 PM

Sparks fly in more conversational Wisconsin governor recall debate

Barrett & Walker before Marquette debate

Gov. Scott Walker (right) chuckles at the moderator's quip about the bright lights moments before the debate with Tom Barrett (left) in Milwaukee on May 31, 2012. (Photo by Thor Tolo/UW Election Eye)

We were at Thursday’s debate between Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his Democratic challenger, Tom Barrett. It was a case study in face-to-face verbal combat that sets the tone for the final five days before Tuesday’s recall election.

MILWAUKEE — Marquette University political science professor John McAdams saw it coming: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s internal polling shows a tighter race than the Marquette Law School poll released Wednesday that has Walker up 52% to 45% over Democratic challenger Tom Barrett heading toward Tuesday’s gubernatorial recall election.

If that’s true, McAdams said, Walker would go hard after Barrett in Thursday evening’s debate.

Last Friday in a debate across town, Barrett assailed Walker without much push back. Would things be different Thursday?

Yes.

It didn’t take long for the sparks to fly.

Walker, who won an earlier coin flip to speak first, was soon challenged by the moderator – and then Barrett – about arguably Walker’s most powerful trump card: elimination of collective bargaining.

Tom Barrett

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett after the debate remained angry over what he calls a "Willie Horton style" ad that he said implies he covered up the murder of a baby. (Photo by Thor Tolo/UW Election Eye)

Barrett, the more aggressive debater six days ago, continued to dodge direct questions from both the moderator and Walker about Barrett’s specific budget plans the day he takes office were he to win.

The conversationally paced debate moved almost seamlessly from topic to topic – finally settling for a few minutes on the so-called John Doe investigation into alleged online solicitation of campaign support on taxpayers’ time. Two people close to Walker’s circle already have pleaded guilty, six are under indictment, and earlier today a 13th person was granted immunity from prosecution.

Walker was about to go down for a 10-count over his anonymous criminal defense fund when he abruptly turned the tables and attacked Barrett over his treatment of Milwaukee’s violent crime statistics amid a federal investigation. Walker’s campaign is even airing a TV ad specifically designed to impugn Barrett’s integrity.

Visibly fuming, Barrett pounced: “I have a history of prosecuting felons. Scott has a practice of hiring them.”

Walker and aide

Tuesday's finish line finally in sight, Gov. Scott Walker heads toward the exit alongside a campaign aide after his contentious debate with Tom Barrett. (Photo by Thor Tolo/UW Election Eye)

The room fell hushed as Walker either chose not to respond or was too stunned to think fast on his feet.

It is worth noting how rare it is — especially for the challenger in a governor’s race — to always refer to an opponent by his first name and not by the more formal title of Governor.

Tonight’s emotionally charged, yet softer-spoken debate aired on ABC stations as far away as Minneapolis-St. Paul across the border into Minnesota.

“Just five days more,” Walker said under his breath, strolling by after his last TV news interview for the night. “I’m just relieved we can all go home and sleep.”

Comments | More in National | Topics: Collective bargaining, John Doe investigation, Marquette Law

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