NEW: "We've got to take it all the way," Gov. Scott Walker tells backers in Green Bay
Walker is hailed by Republicans and vilified by Democrats for weakening public unions
His foe, Tom Barrett, says Walker is trying to be "the rock star of the far right"
Outside money has poured into Wisconsin due to the race, most of it in support of Walker
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican hero for pushing austerity measures that stripped collective bargaining rights from most public unions, rallied supporters Monday night, one last push before a recall that’s drawn lots of outside interest and money.
“We can’t spike the ball on the 10-yard line. We’ve got to take it all the way into the end zone,” Walker said in a Green Bay restaurant, within walking distance of the Packers’ famed Lambeau Field. “Because when we do it’s a win not just for us. It’s a win for our kids and grandkids to make sure they have a better future than the one we inherited.”
Walker faces Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett on Tuesday in a rematch of the 2010 governor’s race that he won by getting more than 52% of the vote.
This time, the stakes are higher after a vitriolic campaign that epitomized the political divide across the country.
The three most recent polls had Walker ahead of Barrett, though the Milwaukee mayor’s final tracking poll indicated the tightest of races – 47.8% to 47.7% – according to his Facebook page. Campaign finance filings definitely put Walker far ahead, as he’s garnered the lion’s share of the tens of millions of dollars that have come into the campaigns.
Barrett told supporters Monday that Wisconsin voters are tired of Walker, whom he described as “a governor who’s more interested in being the rock star of the far right.”
At a rally outside the State Capitol building, which demonstrators occupied last year to try to block Walker’s policies, Barrett supporters sang union songs and waved signs opposing the governor.
A victory by the first-term governor could give Republicans a major boost in efforts to make Wisconsin a battleground state in the November presidential election.
President Barack Obama easily won the state in 2008, but Walker’s unyielding commitment to fiscal austerity in the face of chaotic protests last year made him the poster child for tea party conservatism.
Along with the gubernatorial recall, voters also will decide whether Walker’s lieutenant governor and four Republican state senators keep their jobs.
The recall effort was spurred by a Walker-backed law, signed in March 2011, to limit the collective bargaining rights of state worker unions.
During a bitter fight over the law last year, Democratic legislators left the capital to prevent a quorum, and tens of thousands of protesters converged on the State Capitol building in what became an occupation.
After the law was signed, Democrats immediately began a recall effort that eventually led to Tuesday’s vote.
The campaign has been fierce, with campaigners complaining of keyed cars, verbal harassment and a general lack of tolerance for differing opinions.
The Justice Department on Monday dispatched federal observers to monitor Milwaukee polling places Tuesday to ensure no voter discrimination takes place.
A litany of Republican stars have campaigned for Walker, including fellow governors Chris Christie of New Jersey, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Bob McDonnell of Virginia, as well as U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio from Florida.
Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group built around many of the same principles as the tea party, has pumped more than $10 million into Wisconsin backing Walker’s policies.
“It’s big for the people of Wisconsin and their economic future, but I think it’s even bigger nationally as well,” said Tim Phillips, the group’s president. “I think every governor, every state legislator around the country is looking at Wisconsin, and they’re going, OK, if I got the courage to stand up and do what I think is right to get my state moving again … will someone have my back? And hopefully the answer is going to be, you bet.”
Barrett, meanwhile, got his own high-powered support from former President Bill Clinton, as well as Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.
However, his campaign fundraising has badly trailed the support Walker received. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee announced Saturday it is spending $100,000 in the last five days before the Wisconsin recall vote, bringing its investment to $300,000.
In addition, Obama never hit the trail for Barrett, which Republicans surmised was because the president believes Barrett will lose.
On Sunday, Barrett told CNN’s “State of the Union” that his campaign never asked Obama to campaign on his behalf, adding that “we understand he’s got a lot going on.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney acknowledged the uniqueness of the contest, while also stressing there’s no doubt where the president stands.
“The president’s made clear all along his opposition to those who would take away workers rights – to actions that would take away or diminish worker’s rights,” Carney said. “And he’s also made clear his support for Tom Barrett.”
While Tuesday’s vote will culminate a two-year fight over collective bargaining rights for public employee unions, both parties are casting the debate as a larger referendum on the role of government and policies supported by both parties.
Barrett, however, has continually framed the race as a state contest instead of a national affair.
“I want to make sure that everybody understands this is about Wisconsin values. It’s not about Washington, D.C. It’s about right here, who is going to control the future of this state,” Barrett said Sunday. “Will it be tea party, the national right wing, or is it going to be the people of the state of Wisconsin? And I’m putting my money on the people of the state of Wisconsin.”
Walker has defended his budget actions as necessary for the fiscal health of his state and described his campaign as one of a strong leader who is making the necessary “tough decisions.”
CNN’s Gabriella Schwarz and Chris Welch contributed to this report.