MILWAUKEE -- Wisconsin voters go to the polls Tuesday to decide whether to reelect one of the most polarizing politicians in the country, choosing between two starkly opposite visions of how to run the state. Symbolically, the election's importance is second only to the presidential contest, and both gubernatorial candidates -- Gov. Scott Walker (R) and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) -- made sure their supporters understood the stakes one last time on Monday.
"So here we are. It's the last 28 hours," said Barrett at his final major rally. "It's like a heavyweight boxing match. And in this corner, you've got Scott Walker with his millions and millions of out-of-state dollars. And in this corner, you've got Tom Barrett, and he's got YOU."
"We've only got a few hours left. The polls open tomorrow morning -- just a few hours from now. And in less than 22 hours, the polls close," said Walker at his final event. "The polls show us ahead. I was just up in the shadow of Lambeau Field this evening, and I said -- you know, I'm borrowing from the Packers -- 'We can't spike the ball on the 10-yard line. We've got to get it all the way through to the end zone. ... The truth is on our side."
Barrett's rally on Monday was at the Local 72 UAW Hall in Kenosha, Wis., where union members were serving cheese bratwursts before the event started and there were occasional outbursts of "This is what democracy looks like!" and other chants. Walker's, held later in the evening, was at the American Serb Memorial Hall in south Milwaukee -- a banquet facility with eight chandeliers, a professional sound system and a slightly dressier crowd.
"This is not about the word 'I.' This is about the word 'we,'" said Barrett in his pitch to supporters. "We are in this together. We are in this together to reclaim our state. To make sure that our children and their grandchildren and their grandchildren can be here. So we can have a middle class in a state we're proud of. This is about our values. It's about Wisconsin values. That's why we need each other. That's why we have to keep working. That's why we have to win this election tomorrow."
Barrett was preceded by several speakers, including state Sen. Robert Wirch (D-Pleasant Prairie), Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) and former Wisconsin Democratic senator Russ Feingold, who has been one of Barrett's most high-profile surrogates.
At Walker's event, the only other speaker was Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch (R), who also faces a recall. On stage with them were their families. (Barrett said his wife could not be with him at the UAW event because she had to work, since she is a teacher.)
Barrett's speech hit many of the lines from his stump speeches -- such as slamming Walker for being a "rock star" of the far right -- but he also brought it back around to the labor movement, reminding voters of what started the polarization in the state.
"I've never seen my wife shaken. Never, in our 21 years of marriage, until last year. She was shaken last year," Barrett said. "I have to tell why. ... She was visibly rattled because she felt that her vocation -- not her job -- her vocation, was being attacked by this governor and his allies. ... Her life's mission is to work with children to prepare for the future of this state. And she said to me, 'Why would I tell anybody to go into education, the way they're treating me?'"
Walker kept the focus on jobs in his speech, as he does at most of his campaign events, arguing that his controversial reforms were successful.
"You know what the biggest concern for employers is?" asked Walker. "The biggest thing that's holding people back from creating even more jobs? The recall! The recall! In survey after survey after survey, it's the recall. And I can understand why. I spent the last year and a half, nearly every day, visiting farms, factories and small businesses, all across Wisconsin. And I hear what I see in these surveys. Employers like the direction we're headed. They like the opportunity to add more jobs in a state that's willing to work with them, but they're scared to death about going backwards and not forward."
At the end of the Walker event, a couple dozen protesters showed up, banging a buckets and shouting, "Tax, tax, tax the rich!" and "Recall Walker!" Rally attendees quickly tried to drown them out, with shouts of "Walker!" and "We are the 1 percent!" Several people hurled insults at the protesters, telling them to take a bath or get a job. A Walker supporter attempted to silence his fellow conservatives, telling them that they were making Walker backers look bad in front of the media.
The protest broke up without incident, and group members said they planned to meet in Pere Marquette Park in Milwaukee on Wednesday to continue pushing the "agenda of the 99 percent." Hannah Engber, one of the participants, said several of the protesters were part of Occupy Milwaukee and others were pulled from various progressive groups.
Both Barrett and Walker will vote at 7 a.m. Central time on Tuesday. Barrett will be in Milwaukee at the Milwaukee French Immersion polling place and Walker will be at the Jefferson School in Wauwatosa. Barrett then has canvassing events in Racine and Milwaukee, before his election night party in downtown Milwaukee. Walker is touring businesses in Green Bay and Wausau. His election night party will be in Waukesha.
Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board, which oversees state elections, predicts that turnout could be from 60 percent to 65 percent. That means nearly 3 million people could cast absentee or regular ballots -- more than in the 2010 elections, but not quite as high as in the 2008 presidential race.
More than 206,000 Wisconsinites had requested absentee ballots by noon on Monday.
In addition to the marquee gubernatorial recall, there are five other elections on Tuesday. The GOP lieutenant governor is fighting to hold onto her seat, as are three GOP state senators. One other state senate seat is open, after Sen. Pam Galloway (R-Wausau) decided to resign when it became clear she was going to face a recall. If Democrats win any one of the state senate seats, they will gain the majority in the chamber.
The U.S. Department of Justice is sending a team of federal observers to the city of Milwaukee to ensure compliance with the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in the electoral process. Wisconsin's Department of Justice is also sending a team of officials to 12 cities in an effort to look out for voter fraud.
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