One takeaway from Thursday night's debate between Gov. Scott Walker and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett? It covered meaty and controversial ground, thanks to the direct and persistent questioning of host Mike Gousha, a distinguished fellow at Marquette University Law School, where the debate was held, and host of Upfront with Mike Gousha.
Gousha doggedly pursued answers to his questions in the face of obvious obfuscation. So when Walker refused to answer whether he would sign right-to-work legislation if it got to his desk, Gousha asked him again. Walker still refused to answer, but Gousha's insistence made it clear to viewers that a question had been dodged.
Barrett took the opportunity to go on the attack, as he did throughout the evening.
Barrett said Walker would have to sign the bill, because right-to-work legislation, which prohibits compulsory union membership in workplaces, is "one of the 10 commandments of the far right." Walker would "have a fall from grace if he would say he's going to veto it," Barrett added. "He can't say it. He would no longer be the poster boy of the tea party."
Other zingers of the evening from Barrett: "He's running a commercial right now that shows a dead baby. This is Willie-Horton-style," a reference to a notorious, racially charged ad that targeted Democrat Michael Dukakis when he ran for president in 1988. Walker's ad questions whether Barrett's police department mishandled crime statistics and mistakenly reported a decrease in violent crime.
"You should be ashamed of that commercial, Scott Walker."
Barrett looked genuinely incensed, with enough "fire-in-his-belly" to answer critics who have wondered whether he was sufficiently charged up to take on Walker a second time around.
Barrett also got probably the best punch line of the evening out of the discussion: "I have a police department that arrests felons, he has a practice of hiring them," a reference to the ongoing John Doe probe into Walker's office when he was Milwaukee County executive.
Walker looked tired and perhaps a bit more nervous than he did in the first debate with Barrett on May 25. But he stuck to his talking points and never appeared agitated. He accused Barrett of offering no alternative plan for how he would have addressed the state's $3.6 billion budget gap and claimed his reforms -- code for the elimination of collective bargaining rights for public workers in Act 10 -- were working across the state.
According to Kay Nolan of WisPolitics.com, the debate drew national and international media to Milwaukee, including reporters and photographers from the PBS Newshour, Huffington Post, Christian Science Monitor, NPR News, and CBS Evening News, as well as The Irish Times. Japan Broadcast Radio aired the event live in Japan.
Today the big guns will be in Wisconsin. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton will be stumping for Barrett in Milwaukee. The two will appear at an "Early Vote Rally" at 10:15 a.m. at Pere Marquette Park in Milwaukee. And Walker will appear with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley at a "grassroots rally" at Quad Graphics in Sussex at 2:15 p.m.
The Tea Party Express is also coming to town. As Barrett supporters rally Friday night at the Madison Labor Temple with guitarist Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave and singer-songwriter Jackson Browne, the Tea Party Express will be firing up troops for a final get out the vote effort for Walker and Kleefisch at the Alliant Energy Center parking lot at 6 p.m.
It's a kick-off to a national tour, with a stop first in Jefferson. The group will be in Wisconsin through the June 5 recall election.
Amy Kremer, chairperson of Tea Party Express, said in a news release: "The recall of Governor Scott Walker, Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, and the four state senators has energized tea party groups across the country, so we have focused the first half of our national bus tour in Wisconsin for this critical recall election."