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First Thoughts: The Age of Polarization

Today’s Wisconsin recall is just the latest chapter in this modern Age of Polarization… What the recall results will tell us… And what they probably won’t… Sound familiar? Walker’s rhetoric on campaign trail (especially when talking about jobs) is very similar to Obama’s rhetoric… Polls close in Wisconsin at 9:00 pm ET… And don’t forget: There are four other recalls taking place in the state… Today’s other political races (in CA, NM, NJ, MT, and SD)… This week’s 10 hottest TV markets… Bill Clinton unloads on Romney… And Team Romney’s double standard on job numbers?

*** The Age of Polarization: When the political drama in Wisconsin first began more than 15 months ago, it triggered a partisan battle in the state that divided neighbor against neighbor and co-worker against co-worker -- all over union rights and the role of government. And today, that drama concludes (or at least enters a different phase) with the gubernatorial recall between Gov. Scott Walker (R) and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D). But it’s worth noting that today’s recall in Wisconsin is just the latest chapter in this current Age of Polarization, where the ballot box doesn’t end political debates. It started, in our eyes, with Bill Clinton’s impeachment; carried over into the Bush-vs.-Gore recount, the 2003 California recall, and the aftermath of the 2004 presidential election; and it continued with the collective efforts by Republican state AGs to get the Supreme Court ultimately rule over the health-care law. And in Wisconsin, Walker didn’t want just to balance his state’s budget by reforming pensions; he wanted to crush organized labor and the Democratic Party. Meanwhile, after winning the PR battle last year, labor and state Democrats decide to punish Walker, not just by tying his hands legislatively but with this recall. It’s political combat -- and the fight doesn’t end. And it won’t end regardless of tonight’s result.  

Scott Olson / Getty Images

Neighbors display signs with opposite views on the Wisconsin recall election June 4, 2012 in Beloit, Wisconsin.

*** What the recall will tell us… : We will learn some answers to these questions in today’s recall: Does Walker pay the ultimate political price for the hard-charging reforms that he and other GOP governors pursued in 2011? Or does he get rewarded? Does organized labor still pack a punch in American politics, especially after it got punched in the face first? And what's the best recipe for achieving reform -- bipartisan compromise where all sides make sacrifices, or a take-no-prisoners approach where just one side does all the sacrificing? Those are the issues at stake in the Wisconsin recall, in which Walker appears to be the favorite to win. And those are the issues that could play out again in November's presidential contest.

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd explains why this period of American politics will be referred to as bitter  where candidates utterly delegitimized their political opponents.

*** … and what it won’t: But here are some of the questions the recall probably won't tell us, at least not yet: Who will win Wisconsin in November -- President Obama or Mitt Romney? (If you believe that same Marquette Law School last week that showed Walker up seven points, it also had Obama ahead of Romney by eight points; we'll also see what the exit poll shows regarding the president’s standing.) How much political capital will Walker have if he wins? (Does a win strengthen him, or is it simply survival after nearly one million Wisconsin voters signed petitions to launch the recall?) By the way, it’s possible Wisconsin voters somehow send a more mixed message than the national media is likely to take away: Walker could win but face a Democratic state senate and even a Democratic LG.

*** Sound familiar? Late last week, one of us wrote about how Walker and President Obama -- despite their ideological and stylistic differences -- are pretty much using the same campaign playbook in a tough election. Examples: Turn the race into a choice rather than a referendum and tout the economic progress made, no matter how tepid it has been. So just check out what Walker said on the campaign trail yesterday. Anything sound familiar? “A couple years ago, before I was sworn in as governor, Wisconsin lost more than 100,000 jobs. In 2009-2010, we lost more than 100,000 jobs in the state, and our unemployment rate more than 9%,” he said, per msnbc.com’s Mike O’Brien. “That was a tough time. And instead, we tried to change things, turn stuff around, and last year, in 2011, we gained job. In 2012, we've already gained jobs… Since I've been governor, we've gained more than 30,000 jobs in the state. But we're not done yet.” And this: “We want to move this state forward; we don't want to go backwards. We don't want to go back to the days before, when we had double-digit tax increases, billion dollar deficits and job losses.”

*** What else you need to know: Polls in Wisconsin close at 9:00 pm ET (and 8:00 pm CST). And the gubernatorial race isn’t the only recall in the state. Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch (R) and four three GOP state senators who voted for Walker’s reforms also are on the ballot today. And turnout is expected to be incredibly high. “About 60 to 65 percent of Wisconsin residents of voting age are expected to go to the polls on Tuesday, the state’s Government Accountability Board said,” per the New York Times. “That would be a higher turnout than two years ago, when Mr. Walker and a wave of Republicans largely swept state and federal offices here, but not as high as the more than 69 percent turnout in 2008, when Barack Obama easily won the state.” As mentioned above, there also will be a network exit poll.

*** Today’s other races: And Wisconsin voters aren’t the only ones heading to the polls today. Five states are holding their presidential and congressional primaries. In California, we’ll see the results from its first official free-for-all primaries (where the top-two finishers, regardless of party, advance to the general election); in New Jersey, we’ll find out the winner between the Obama-backed Steve Rothman vs. the Bill Clinton-backed Bill Pascrell in that member-vs.-member race; in New Mexico, we’ll see who wins the Democratic Senate primary between Martin Heinrich and Hector Balderas; and Montana and South Dakota also hold their primaries today.

*** 10 hottest TV markets: Here’s our latest installment of the 10 hottest TV markets in the presidential contest (for the week of June 4 to June 10). Some quick notes compared with last week: Norfolk, VA remains the top market; just four states (VA, OH, IA, and NC) are on this top-10 list; Columbus, OH goes from No.4 to No.2; Cedar Rapids, IA goes from No.7 to No.3; Charlotte goes from No.8 to No.5; and Colorado Springs, CO dropped out, meaning no CO markets are on this list.

Hottest Markets for this week 6/4-6/10 and in terms of advertising points:

1. Norfolk-Portsmouth, VA (Romney/1500, Obama/825, Crossroads/630, Priorities/400)
2. Columbus, OH (Romney/1500, Obama/815, Crossroads/600, Priorities/350)
3. Cedar Rapids, IA (Obama/1600, Romney/850, Crossroads/600, Priorities/350)
4. Roanoke-Lynchburg, VA (Romney/1500, Obama/815, Crossroads/750)
5. Charlotte, NC (Romney/1500, Obama/750, Crossroads/600)
6. Richmond, VA (Romney/1200, Obama/575, Crossroads/450, Priorities/350)
7. Greensboro-High Point, NC (Romney/1000, Obama/700, Crossroads/675)
8. Cincinnati, OH (Romney/1200, Obama/600, Crossroads/550)
9. Des Moines, IA (Romney/850, Obama/550, Priorities/500, Crossroads/350)
10. Greenville-Spartanburg, NC (Crossroads/1200, Obama/950)
11. Raleigh-Durham, NC (Romney/900, Crossroads/700, Obama/575)

*** Bill Clinton unloads on Romney: The irony on all the attention that Bill Clinton going off script last week received? It brought extra attention to the tough political shot he took at Romney last night in New York. And don’t be surprised if you see the Obama camp adopt this line. “Former President Bill Clinton on Monday accused Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and the Republican Congress of having ‘adopted Europe's economic policies’ of austerity,” The Hill notes. More: The former president — speaking at the home of a hedge fund manager — added that ‘the politics is wrong on the Republican side, the economics are crazy.’ Clinton said Romney would be ‘calamitous’ for the country and the world. Obama, he said, has good politics, he's got a good record, he's made the best of a very challenging situation, he deserves to be reelected.”

*** Team Romney’s double standard? If you’ve been following this presidential contest over the past year, you know Mitt Romney’s central argument against Obama: The president has presided over a lackluster economy where there have been too many job losses and where recovery has been too slow. But the Obama campaign has pounced on Team Romney’s explanation for the relatively weak job growth in Massachusetts (47th out of 50 states) during Romney’s tenure as governor. On FOX over the weekend, Romney adviser Ed Gillespie said: “You take the first year which is a low base year when the governor came in and took office because it was 50th in job creation out of all of the states dead last, and moved it to 30th by the fourth year and a net job creation of 40,000 jobs… So, they are bringing down the gains of his fourth year in office which shows the real impact of his policies and diluting it with the first year in office when came into office and it was 50th in job creation.” In other words, Gillespie said, don’t count Romney’s first year; count his last. The Obama camp is up with a video highlighting what they say is this double standard.

*** Other odds and ends: Crossroads GPS hits Obama in a new TV ad (it says the buy is $7 million)… And Team Romney is up with a web video blasting Obama.

Countdown to GOP convention: 83 days
Countdown to Dem convention: 90 days
Countdown to Election Day: 154 days

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