GLENMORE, Wisc. — Even on a gorgeous June morning that graced the Brown County Dairy Breakfast, even on a sweeping emerald farm-scape lined with the progressive image of several wind turbines, the turbulence and the fissures of the Wisconsin recall election hissed through.
Both Governor Scott Walker and his challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, attended and took turns serving eggs to some of the 6,000 people coming through the chow line. After Barrett's shift ended, he stood between two lines of people waiting for food and started shaking their hands.
At least two men refused to shake Barrett's hand, saying they were Walker supporters. Barrett kept his hand outward, saying, "This is America."
I asked Barrett about the encounters at a media conference near rows of sizzling sausages. He said, "This is a new occurrence. Whenever that happens, I keep my hand out and say 'This is America.' Usually, not always, people smile and say Yep, it's America.' I'm literally extending my hand to those people who don't want me because at the end of the day we're all Americans, we're all Wisconsinites and we do have to work together."
One of the men who did not shake his hand was Bill Frank, an actuary from the Brown County town of Lawrence. A father of three children, Frank said, "Walker is doing what needs to be done for the state. I just didn't want to do anything to show any support to Barrett."
Brown County is a clear epicenter of this seismic election. Best known for a playing field of another kind — Lambeau Field and its Green Bay Packers — the county has been huge in presidential politics, often in the top echelon of counties in the US that see multiple visits by candidates. President Obama, a Democrat, won here, 54 percent to 45 percent after Republican President Bush won here both in 2004 and 2000. In 2010, Walker won here 56 to 42 percent.
With no sign that his lead in the polls has narrowed, Walker's camp brewed confidence that spilled over into national politics. In 2008, Obama's Republican rival, John McCain, pulled the plug on his Wisconsin efforts about two months before the election. Now, former Wisconsin GOP governor Tommy Thompson, who is running for the US Senate to replace the retiring Herb Kohl, said a Walker victory sets up Wisconsin to be up for grabs in the presidential election.
"You've got several things," Thompson said after his visit to the breakfast. "You've got everybody organized, you got the adrenaline going, the enthusiasm, the fact that we took on everybody and we won, which is going to energize the party even more so. The second thing is, Reince Priebus is the national chairman (Priebus is the former Wisconsin GOP party chair). He'll want Wisconsin to be in play. So he's going to be pushing the Romney people. "
"Number three, if we win in Wisconsin, Barack Obama cannot win (reelection). So all of these things, just like the stars are starting to line up for Scott Walker on Tuesday, the stars will line up over the summer for Romney... The victory Tuesday, I can't tell you what it's going to do. It's going to be demoralizing to the Democrats and [produce] excitement and fervor for the Republicans."
Thompson seemed to take personal pride in Walker's rise as a national figure. Thompson was elected governor an unprecedented four times, becoming best known for slashing welfare. "The same thing they're using against Walker they used against me when I started welfare reform, remember that?"
"They were demonstrating against me because I had the courage to stand up and change welfare. And now, even President Clinton copied me on welfare reform. My bill is the national law, 70 percent of it is what I did in Wisconsin," Thompson said.
Asked what policy of Walker’s might creep to Washington, assuming a victory, Thompson said, "I think the fact that he's going to be requesting more of a contribution from public employees, I think that's going to be something that's going to be looked at in Washington."
Kohl was also there, appearing with Barrett, in a green sports jacket and a hat of the Milwaukee Bucks pro basketball team he owns. Compared to Thompson, Kohl was far more cautious about Tuesday's election, saying, "People have a clear choice" to restore "reason and compromise" with Barrett.