MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican leaders hope their supporters vote for fake Democrats in May 8 recall elections, a move that could result in GOP backers having an influence in who Gov. Scott Walker faces.
Wisconsin's open primary allows voters to cast ballots for either side, Republican or Democrat, no matter their true feelings. That inevitably leads to speculation that one side or the other will try to vote for the opposing candidate they view as the weakest.
Fake Democratic candidates are running in all six recall elections that target Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four state Senate seats. Walker is the only Republican who has a primary challenger, albeit one with little name recognition who is a Walker opponent despite claiming to be a Republican.
That leaves GOP voters largely free to cross over and influence the Democratic side.
"We are encouraging Republicans to vote in the Democratic primaries," said state Rep. Robin Vos, the Republican expected to serve as speaker of the Assembly next year. Vos said people frequently bring up the tactic to him and he doesn't discourage them from doing it, although he's not actively working to coordinate a widespread crossover voter effort.
Vos himself even did it in the 1988 presidential race, voting for Democrat Jesse Jackson in the hopes he would win the primary and provide an easier match for President George Bush as he sought election.
Vos isn't the only one talking about it. Senate Republican leader Scott Fitzgerald told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel earlier this month that nothing was preventing GOP voters from "messing around" in the primary.
Fitzgerald said some Republicans may vote for Falk because polling shows she does not perform as well as Barrett in a matchup with Walker.
Walker's campaign fueled that speculation by running only attack ads against Falk's largest rival Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett last week, when it had prepared spots against both him and Falk.
Word of mouth alone, fueled by advocates on conservative talk radio, could be enough to influence the elections. That's what appeared to happen in the April 3 presidential primary, with a large number of Democrats voting for social conservative Rick Santorum in an apparent effort to prolong the divisive GOP primary.
Mitt Romney beat Santorum by 7 points statewide, but in liberal Dane County, Romney won by just 1.7 percent.
Democrats made up 11 percent of voters, according to an exit poll conducted for AP by Edison Research. Of those, 44 percent voted for Santorum, 24 percent for Romney, 18 percent for Ron Paul and 5 percent for Newt Gingrich.
No other state had more Democrats voting in the Republican primary, according to exit polls.
Republican Party spokesman Ben Sparks, along with Vos and other Republican office holders, said there is no organized effort to get GOP voters to cross over in the recall elections. Democratic Party spokesman Graeme Zielinski said that while he expected it to happen, he didn't think it would play a major role in who wins.
History shows crossover voting rarely has any meaningful effect on the outcome. Even Vos said he doesn't expect any real Democrats to go down to the fake candidates.
That doesn't mean it's not getting talked about a lot.
Republican Senate President Mike Ellis said he didn't think there was any good reason to encourage Republicans to vote for Falk over Barrett in the governor's race.
"What's the difference?" he said. "They're both formidable opponents. I don't see either one of them as a weak candidate. ... I don't care which one it is, I believe they're going to get about the same amount of vote."
Falk and Barrett are among four true Democrats who are running along with one fake. But Walker also has a challenger - frequent Capitol protester and Walker opponent Arthur Kohl-Riggs. He has taken to wearing a top hat and claiming he is running as a Republican in the tradition of Abraham Lincoln and progressive Wisconsin Republican Bob La Follette.
Kohl-Riggs, 23, said part of the reason he's running is to make sure Republicans are forced to vote for Walker instead of messing around in the Democratic primary.
That makes it unlikely there will be widespread crossover voting in that race, Vos said.
"I still think when people see two names on the ballot, they are so supportive of Gov. Walker almost to the point of being all in," Vos said. "I think they're going to want to vote for him even knowing this guy's a whack job."
Republicans ran fake Democrats in six recall elections last year, but none of them advanced out of the primary. All but one of them failed to get more than 36 percent of the vote.
Even so, Democratic Senate candidate Lori Compas said she and volunteers have been going door to door and spoken with numerous people who were confused about the fake candidate situation.
"A voter asked me if the ballot would indicate which candidates were fake and which were real," said Compas, who is running in Fitzgerald's district. "This is truly a bizarre situation. People need to be able to trust the information that appears on their ballots."
Democratic attorney Jeremy Levinson tried unsuccessfully to convince the state elections board to keep the fake candidates off the ballot. He called the move "the most cynical kind of gaming the system and manipulating the election."
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