By Scott Bauer
MADISON — The leading Democratic candidates in the race to take on Republican Gov. Scott Walker in only the nation’s third gubernatorial recall election made their final campaign stops Monday before the primary.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the last of the four Democrats to get into the race, has emerged as the front-runner in the Tuesday vote. A Marquette University poll released last week showing him with a 17-point lead over Kathleen Falk. The margin of error was 4.7 percentage points.
Barrett’s apparent edge comes despite Falk being the favored candidate of the major unions that spurred the recall against Walker, including the statewide teachers union and the AFL-CIO.
Walker was targeted for recall after succeeding last year with enacting a law that effectively ended collective bargaining for most state workers, sparking weeks of protests and making Wisconsin the center of the national struggle with unions.
Walker since has emerged as a national conservative hero and the embodiment of the Republican rise to power in 2010. He has shattered Wisconsin campaign finance records, raising $25 million as he tries to keep his job in the face of the historic recall. About two-thirds of what Walker raised came from outside Wisconsin.
While the union fight spurred the recall, the campaign has been much broader and also largely focused on the state’s economy and Walker’s 2010 campaign pledge to create 250,000 jobs over four years.
The state’s unemployment rate is at the lowest level it’s been since 2008, but Wisconsin lost more jobs than any other state between March 2011 and March 2012. Since Walker took office 16 months ago, only 5,900 private sector jobs have been created.
Barrett, who lost to Walker by 5 points in 2010, wants a rematch.
Barrett was spending the last day before the primary meeting with voters in Sheboygan and Kenosha. Falk planned a pair of campaign stops in Barrett’s backyard, meeting with students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus and talking with union workers at a Milwaukee elementary school.
Two other Democrats in the race, Secretary of State Doug La Follette and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, ran much more low-profile campaigns and failed to gain traction with voters. La Follette said he was spending Monday posting messages on Facebook urging people to vote for him.
“I am relying on the people who stood in the cold and rain and made this recall possible for their support,” La Follette wrote.
Vinehout’s campaign spokeswoman immediately did not return a message Monday.
Walker planned to visit workers at the Emmi Roth cheese plant in Monroe and tour the Rayovac facility in Fennimore on Monday. Both stops were organized through his official office and not his campaign.
His campaign spokeswoman Ciara Matthews said Walker would be making campaign stops Tuesday.
Walker faces token opposition in the primary from Arthur Kohl-Riggs, a Walker opponent who says he is running as a Republican in the tradition of Abraham Lincoln and Bob La Follette.
Gladys Huber, a Republican, also is on the ballot on the Democratic side.
Turnout for the primary was predicted at between 30 percent and 35 percent of eligible voters, which would be the highest for a primary in a governor’s race since 38.9 percent in 1952.
The Government Accountability Board predicts between 1.3 million and 1.5 million people will vote in the primary. In the 2010 governor’s race, a little more than 1 million people voted for Barrett. Walker got 1.1 million votes and won by about 125,000 votes.
The general election is just a month away June 5.
Erik Dahlberg, a 51-year-old investment adviser from Beloit, called the recall process a “sham” and said he planned to vote for Walker. If people don’t like Walker’s policies, they should vote him out in 2014, Dahlberg said.
“He deserves the four years he earned,” Dahlberg said of Walker. “We run the guy out of office for doing what he said he’d do? He didn’t rob a bank. … Be reasonable. I just think the political process should be allowed to work.”[polldaddy poll=”6153901″]