To say that Wisconsin is divided—even deeply divided—doesn’t quite capture the intensity of the feelings here less than a month before the recall vote. In Brule, “up north” in the sparsely populated northwest corner of the state, the low-key owner of a funeral home kicked off an annual fly-fishing trip with a prayer that included a strong plea for divine intervention on Walker’s behalf. Across the state to the east, a previously apolitical entrepreneur put up a pro-Walker sign and opened his establishment to the local Republican party for fear that his business could not survive a return to higher taxes and more regulations under the state’s Democrats. Virtually everyone you talk to here can tell you a story about lifelong friends who are no longer on speaking terms because of opposing views on the governor. (Indeed, one recent poll found that 3 in 10 Wisconsinites say they have ended relationships themselves.) Tavern owners report regular disputes among customers that range from muttered comments to full-scale shouting matches. And worse…

Although the Wisconsin news media have not trumpeted the successful results of Walker’s reforms with quite the fanfare that accompanied the temporarily bad jobs numbers, the steady stream of less-celebrated reports over many months seems to have registered with Wisconsinites. In the Marquette poll, voters were given three choices to describe their view of Walker: “I like what he’s done as governor,” “I like what he’s done but not how he’s done it,” and “I don’t like what he’s done as governor.” Thirty-seven percent said they like what he’s done, 22 percent said they like what he’s done but not how he’s done it, and
38 percent said they don’t like what he’s done. The bottom line: Six in 10 likely voters recognize that the reforms have worked. Walker may not win all their votes, but to lose, he’d need to have a good chunk of voters who like what he’s done vote for someone else on June 5…

Despite all of this, Walker has few regrets about his short tenure as governor. He says he’s learned from the experience and says that if he had it to do over again he’d spend more time explaining the process to Wisconsinites before moving to implement the reforms. But when I asked him whether there’s a part of him that wishes he hadn’t pursued the reforms to balance the budget, he’s resolute, then reflective. “On substance? No,” he says. Then he pauses. “A friend of mine, a supporter, asked me: ‘Do you ever think that if you hadn’t gone so far you might not be facing recall?’ And I thought about it. If I hadn’t gone so far, I wouldn’t have fixed it. I’m running to win. I’m doing everything in my power to win. But I’m not afraid to lose. To me, it’s not worth being in a position like this if you’re not willing to do things to fix it. And that means sometimes not worrying about whether or not it’s going to help you win or lose.”