MADISON -- Groups seeking to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker submitted nearly twice as many signatures Tuesday as required to force an election, an overwhelming number that may make a vote later this year inevitable. But Walker's opponents still must transform public outrage over his pushback against unions into actual votes to oust him from office.
If Walker is worried, he's not showing it: As petitions were delivered to election officials, Walker was out of state raising money to defend himself and the agenda that has made him a national conservative hero.
The 1 million signatures that United Wisconsin, the coalition that spearheaded the effort along with the Democratic Party, said were collected far exceeds the 540,208 needed and amounts to 23 percent of the state's eligible voters.
Walker was elected in 2010 as part of a national Republican tide, and quickly angered unions and others with aggressive moves that included effectively ending collective bargaining rights for nearly all public workers.
Petitioners were also submitting about 305,000 more signatures than were needed to trigger a recall election against Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, and said they also exceeded the number needed to force recall elections of four Republican state senators, including Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.
The massive number of signatures against Walker means his supporters would have to successfully challenge about 46 percent of them to stop a recall election, in which Walker would likely run against a yet-to-be-decided Democratic challenger.
"I don't know if it's insurmountable, but it would be extremely difficult,'' said Joshua Spivak, a recall expert and senior fellow at Wagner College in New York.
During the recall of California Gov. Gray Davis in 2003, petitioners also turned in almost double what was needed and only about 18 percent were tossed, Spivak said.
Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate said given the number of signatures collected, Walker shouldn't seek delays and instead let the vote proceed. "Does anyone really honestly believe we're not going to have an election?'' Tate said.
In a statement Tuesday, Walker expressed confidence that in he will survive a recall and that voters will reward him for balancing a $3.6 billion budget shortfall without laying off state employees or raising taxes. "I look forward to talking to the people of Wisconsin about my continued promises to control government spending, balance the budget, and hold the line on taxes,'' he said. "Instead of going back to the days of billion-dollar budget deficits, double-digit tax increases and record job loss, I expect Wisconsin voters will stand with me and keep moving Wisconsin forward.''
Republican Party Chairman Brad Courtney issued a statement denouncing what he called a baseless and expensive recall. An election is expected to cost at least $9 million. "Regardless of what the radical left may believe, Wisconsin families will continue to stand with Gov. Walker,'' Courtney said.
The governor's supporters have been training volunteers how to vet signatures and they plan to create a database where names will be entered and verified. Walker has already successfully sued the state elections board to require it to do a more extensive review of the signatures than originally planned in order to catch duplicates and obviously fake names like Mickey Mouse.
The Government Accountability Board has said its review will take 60 days or more and it will go to court this week to seek more than the 31 days allowed under the law. Tate said he didn't expect a Walker recall election would happen before May. Walker has said he thinks it will be in June.
Recalls have become common in Wisconsin since the political tumult of 2011 that saw Walker and Republicans pass the collective bargaining changes, one of the country's most restrictive laws requiring photo identification at the polls, and a budget that included an $800 million cut to public schools.
The opposition started with massive protests and then grew into organized campaigns, first to recall state senators, then Walker himself. Last summer, six Republican state senators and three Democrats faced recall elections. Two Republicans lost, leaving the party with a one-vote majority in the Senate.
A recall against Walker couldn't officially be filed until after he had served a year in office, an anniversary reached earlier this month. But Walker hasn't been waiting around to see what happens. He ran a television ad the night before recall petitions hit the street in mid-November and has been on the air nonstop, saying that while some of his decisions to balance the budget were difficult, the state is in a better financial position and will prosper in the long run.
The governor has been raising money at a furious clip. He was hosting a $2,500 per-person fundraiser in New York City on Tuesday along with Maurice "Hank'' Greenberg, the founder and former CEO of American International Group. AIG was one of the world's largest insurance companies but nearly collapsed in 2008 at the height of the financial crisis and received about $180 billion in bailout aid from the government.
Walker has also recently attended fundraisers in Texas, Kentucky and Tennessee. He is taking full advantage of both the conservative star persona he built as he put Wisconsin at the center of the national labor rights debate and a quirk in state law allowing those targeted for recall to ignore normal contribution limits until an election date is set. As of mid-December, he had raised $5.1 million, with about half coming from out-of-state donors.
Democrats, who have no candidate raising money to challenge Walker, concede they will not be able to match him dollar for dollar. Instead, they are counting on the same type of energy that drove the protests and the petition drive to translate into the campaign.
Two prominent Democrats, former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold and retiring U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, have repeatedly said they aren't interested. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who lost to Walker by 6 percentage points, issued a statement praising recall circulators but did not indicate whether he would enter the race. "It's time for a new direction that will heal our fractured state and move Wisconsin forward again,'' Barrett said.
Besides Davis, the only other successful recall of a governor in the nation's history was North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier in 1921.