They are now just a little more than a month away from the big showdown with Walker they have been craving for over a year â€” but rather than excitement, there is growing fear within the party that they just might blow it.
The problem for Democrats is that before they get their shot against Walker, they have to get through a divisive primary between an establishment pick and a union favorite that is threatening to undercut their unified front against the governor.
â€œWeâ€™re nervous,â€ said Julie Wells, who works with the grass-roots group United Wisconsin. Wells, a forklift operator from Fort Akinson, filed the papers to recall Walker, and she was there when they were submitted. But now volunteers who promised to help arenâ€™t showing up. â€œWe know that we can win this, but weâ€™re not seeing the level of participation we saw during the signature-gathering phase,â€ she said.
Milwaukee MayorÂ Tom Barrett, who lost to Walker by six percentage points in 2010, is the establishment pick for the May 8 Democratic primary. He leads three other primary candidates by double-digits, according to the latest polls. He has the support of most prominent elected officials in the state and, in a sign of his standing, Republicans have focused their attacks on him.
â€œThe Republicans do not want me to emerge from this primary,â€ Barrett told a crowd of a hundred or so at a Waukesha coffee shop last week. â€œTheyâ€™ve made commercials about several candidates, theyâ€™re only running them against me,â€ he said, because â€œthey view me as the strongest candidate.â€
But most of the unions that first revolted against Walkerâ€™s legislation have endorsed another candidate: former Dane County executiveÂ Kathleen Falk.
For many union leaders, Barrett is, if not as bad as Walker, not good enough either. As mayor, he used the rule changes championed by Walker to take away benefits from city employees. While Falk committed to vetoing any budget that does not include collective bargaining, Barrett favors a more conciliatory special session of the legislature.