To protect their imperiled star, the GOP has assembled a solid ground-game buoyed by robust fundraising and a clear economic message. By contrast, Walker’s opponents are a fractured force: a loose constellation of Democrats, political-action committees, and labor groups with overlapping goals but spotty coordination. The Democrats have been unable to drive a consistent message, careening from collective bargaining to Walker’s purported dishonesty, the “war on women” and jobs and education. In part, that’s because the recall push remains balkanized, with the state party, labor groups, and PACs like We are Wisconsin and United Wisconsin each acting autonomously. And some of them are fine with the mixed messaging. “You always see liberals suffering from it to a certain extent,” says Reeder, the Solidarity song leader.
“In the same way the Occupy movement didn’t have a coherent message, that’s not necessarily the point,” says Erik Kirkstein, the 30-year-old political director of United Wisconsin, which spearheaded the recall and is now focusing its efforts on voter registration. A collection of motivated volunteers, it has just five full-time paid staff. As a nonpartisan group, United Wisconsin didn’t endorse a candidate in the Democratic primary, a stance that dovetails with its emphasis on citizen engagement rather than electoral results. “This is a human response to making middle-class people bear the brunt of a bad economy,” he says, sipping coffee in the group’s sparsely furnished storefront office on the east side of Milwaukee, which has hanging T-shirts for sale and labor-printed signs plastered to the walls. “People are engaged politically to a level that’s scarcely been seen anywhere.”