Although Kathleen Falk was trounced in the primary election for governor on Tuesday, the mood at her party at the Edgewater Hotel was surprisingly cheerful.
Falk entered the room to hearty cheers and at the podium did her best to rally the troops in support of her opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
"I give my full support to Tom, and I urge you to do the same," the former Dane County executive told the crowd of hundreds. "Gov. Walker must be recalled.... I urge and implore you to keep up the fight to take our government back."
Her call to arms might have been so forceful because the results of the primary election were a bit sobering for Democrats. Despite not having a serious primary opponent, Gov. Scott Walker won 626,000 votes -- almost as much as the four Democrats' combined 665,000 votes.
Barry Burden, a UW-Madison political science professor, says the results show the Democrats have a lot of ground to make up before the June 5 recall election.
"The Walker campaign clearly has a committed core of supporters who will turn out even when he doesn't have an opponent," Burden says. "[Democrats] are going to need to get over a million votes in the June election to win. If they can get the 900,000 who signed the petition, that's a good start."
State Rep. Brett Hulsey (D-Madison) agrees the Democrats have work to do. "We've got to unite and turn out our base and find at least 200,000 to 300,000 more votes," he said at Falk's party.
Walker's campaign expressed confidence at the showing. The governor's campaign manager, Dan Blum, said in a statement: "As Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett enters the general election in his soon to be third statewide losing campaign, he will surely find that his record of raising taxes and promises to continue to do so will not resonate with voters."
Madison Ald. Lisa Subeck said that Barrett needs to work hard in the next month to attract the supporters Falk had courted. "Tom can win, but he's really going to have to reach out to the grassroots folks."
Jenni Dye, who pulled off an upset in April by beating an incumbent for a seat on the Dane County Board, said she wasn't dejected that Walker got such a big tournout. "There are a lot of people committed to seeing Scott Walker recalled, but they don't care who it is that recalls him," she said. "This wasn't the important day for them."
At the Brink Lounge, where about 50 Madison-area Barrett supporters gathered Tuesday night, the atmosphere was more convivial than celebratory. Several people suggested that Democrats voting in the primary believe swing voters will welcome the opportunity for a do-over. That included state Sen. John Erpenbach (D-Middleton), who didn't see the results as a rejection of Falk.
"I don't think it was a matter of Kathleen vs. Tom," he said. "The four candidates were all essentially the same on the issues. After people got past that question, it was who is in the best position to go after the governor."
Newly elected county Sup. Tim Kiefer, who represents a district to the north of Madison including Waunakee, says whatever happens, the recall will be extremely close.
"When I was going door-to-door for the county board campaign, lots of people were bringing up the recall and nobody was undecided about it," he said. "When I was running in 2008, you didn't see that level of polarization at all."
Erpenbach said the Barrett campaign needs to find places where it can increase turnout from 2010.
"I think if you take a look up in Eau Claire, the Fox Valley, down in Racine, the turnout needs to be better down there," he said. "It's a 28-day sprint, and a lot of people know what Scott Walker has done. It's our job to remind them of that and also to talk about what we're trying to do as well. Things are laid out in front of us, but I think we can do it."