Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett won a sweeping victory in the primary to choose a Democratic nominee to oppose anti-labor Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin’s June 5 recall election. And, despite $21 million in spending and a concerted effort by the embattled governor, the state Republican Party and conservative talk radio hosts to run up his GOP primary numbers, Walker’s total fell far short of the combined Democratic total.
Barrett, the 2010 Democratic gubernatorial nominee who entered the race late—and who was significantly outspent by another Democrat, former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, and her allies—won by a far wider margin than even his most enthusiastic backers would have dared predict. The mayor took 58 percent of the vote to 34 percent for Falk, while state Senator Kathleen Vinehout won 4 percent and Secretary of State Doug La Follette was at 3 percent.
Barrett won fifty-six of Wisconsin’s seventy-two counties, including Falk’s home base of Dane County, which includes the state capitol in Madison. Most of Falk’s win’s came in sparsely populated northern Wisconsin counties. Despite the fact that she had secured endorsements from many of the state’s largest unions, Barrett won traditional labor strongholds (such as Rock, Racine, Kenosha, Manitowioc, Sheboygan and Brown counties) in the southern and eastern regions of the state.
Falk’s endorsement of Barrett was gracious, unequivocal and immediate, putting to rest most questions about whether Democrats would unify following the primary. And Barrett predicted Tuesday night at a packed Milwaukee victory party (where leaders of the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees and other unions joined the cheering throngs) that: “We will be united because we understand we cannot fix Wisconsin as long as Scott Walker is the governor of this state.”