Like you, I am completely caught up in the Wisconsin recall. And like you, I can't imagine considering any other political battle more important, including the 2012 presidential election.
So I was taken aback when Greg Sargent wrote a column in the Washington Post this week headlined "Wisconsin Democrats furious with the DNC for refusing to invest big money in Walker recall."
Quoting an unnamed source in the Wisconsin Democratic Party, Sargent says that state Dems asked the DNC for $500,000 to help with a huge field operation, but neither the national party nor its governors association has ponied up. "While the DNC has made generally supportive noises, the money has not been forthcoming, the official says - with less than a month until the June 5th recall election."
State party chair Mike Tate responded to Sargent's column with a statement clarifying that there's no problem with the Democratic Governors Association, but he leaves the charge against the DNC alone: "Having received absolute support from the Democratic Governors Association, we also are in conversation with the Democratic National Committee to help in this battle against Scott Walker, a right-wing diva who has the full backing of the national corporate Tea Party movement."
The DNC hasn't said anything. Draw your own conclusions.
Despite Scott Walker's accusations that "big labor bosses from out of state" drove the uprising in Wisconsin, and conservatives' powerful wish to link the recall effort to their nemesis, President Obama, the truth is that Wisconsinites are doing this thing for themselves. Obama didn't come to Wisconsin for a full year after Walker "dropped the bomb," triggering the mass protests here. The recall petition drive was neither launched nor sanctioned by the national party, which seems to be keeping its powder dry for Obama's reelection campaign.
Now that the recall election is looming, the national Democratic Party is still not too worked up about Wisconsin.Vice President Joe Biden told Ed Schultz on MSNBC that gathering recall signatures was the real fight - it didn't really matter what happened in the election.
Clearly, the Republicans and their network of conservative groups take the opposite point of view. Look at the big money Scott Walker has raised outside the state.
In fundraising letters featuring pictures of the mass rallies at the Capitol, Walker is busy scaring conservatives around the country into contributing to his campaign. "Big Labor Bosses know what they want, when they want it, and how they're going to get it," Walker wrote in one letter. "Their naked power grab starts here in Wisconsin and then radiates across the country. Mark my words, if they barge and bully and get their way here, your state's next."
Or, as Congressman Paul Ryan put it, "Progressivism was founded here in Wisconsin. The battle between conservatives and progressives is coming to a crescendo this year."
Out-of-state conservatives have responded by contributing 60% of Walker's record-breaking $25 million, and by turning Walker into a "right-wing rock star" on the national fundraising circuit, as opponent Tom Barrett put it. The billionaires who financed the Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich campaigns kicked in enough money to catapult Walker into the same fundraising league as the Republican presidential candidates with his $13 million raised in just three months (ahead of Gingrich and slightly behind Santorum). Santorum backer Foster Friess, Amway founder Richard DeVos, and Newt's sugar daddy, Sands hotel and casino owner Sheldon Adelson, along with the powerful Koch brothers, are financing Walker's campaign.
By primary day, Walker had out-fundraised the Democrats 6-to-1, if you add the whole Democratic field together. But that doesn't mean he will win.
"One of Scott Walker's great weaknesses is his reliance on outside money," says Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. "That could be turned against him, instead of the Democrats complaining that not enough money is coming from outside Wisconsin on their side."
Arguably, the big-dollar fundraising, most of which is spent on TV ads, is less relevant in the Wisconsin recall than in other elections, because there are so few voters who have not already made up their minds. The difference between winning and losing will depend entirely on each side's get-out-the-vote effort: the ground war, not the TV air war. Walker, McCabe points out, has already spent $20 million on ads. "And it hasn't moved the needle an inch," he says.
"The political class is so used to having political consultants tell them there's only one way to win elections. And that's raising truckloads of money and spending it on political ads," McCabe says.
But TV advertising itself might not be such a powerful tool for long. "It will be some handheld device that isn't even invented yet," McCabe predicts. "TV will go the way of the dinosaur. But I see no sign that either party is looking that far ahead and seeing what the next wave will look like."
If the Wisconsin recall succeeds, it will not be because the Obama campaign or "big labor bosses from out of state" poured money into our state. It will be because a lot of determined citizens decided to ignore conventional wisdom and take a flier on a democracy, in the face of overwhelming money on other side.
Ruth Conniff is the political editor of The Progressive.