Tens of thousands gathered Saturday at the state Capitol in support of the ongoing effort to recall Gov. Scott Walker, the largest such rally since the historic month-long protests over collective bargaining ended in March.
State Department of Administration officials estimate 25,000 to 30,000 people filled the square, marching through the cold drizzle, holding signs and chanting seemingly every possible derivation of "Recall Walker."
U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, was in the crowd. So was Ed Schultz, MSNBC talk show host and liberal firebrand.
A group of about 50 Walker supporters made a brief appearance. They weaved through a collection of teachers, students and organized labor officials unified in their desire to remove Walker from office.
The governor has been targeted by those who object to several of his high-profile legislative victories, including his substantial cuts to public education and the limits he put on the collective bargaining powers of public employees.
Asked about the rally Saturday, Walker's office chose to focus on another of his priorities.
"The only campaign Gov. Walker is focused on is the one to help the private sector create 250,000 new jobs," said Cullen Werwie, Walker's spokesman.
Organizers said the rally's goal was to energize their troops and collect some of the signatures needed to trigger the recall. Walker's opponents need 540,208 valid signatures by Jan. 17.
So far three groups have formed recall committees, two of them serious attempts to remove Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch from office: Recall Walker PAC and United Wisconsin.
Recall Walker PAC formed officially on Friday. United Wisconsin has been in place since Tuesday and has collected 105,000 signatures.
Four Republican senators also are targeted for recall: Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau, Pam Galloway of Wausau, Van Wanggaard of Racine and Terry Moulton of Chippewa Falls. But Saturday, it was clear the main target of those assembled was Walker.
"We are going to do everything in our power to get him out," said Ellen Holly, a longtime teacher and recall volunteer.
Holly, who has taught for 28 years in Walworth County, is a veteran protester by this point. She and several of her colleagues attended almost every rally and protest at the Capitol in February and March, kicked off when Walker attempted to push through his collective bargaining bill.
Walker's proposal led 14 Senate Democrats to flee the state in an attempt to halt its progress. Eventually they returned and Walker signed the measure into law. But his victory sowed the seeds for the current political turmoil.
"He never campaigned on limiting collective bargaining," said Jeff Kravat, a member of the local chapter of MoveOn.Org and a recall volunteer. "His hit on collective bargaining was a stealth campaign, and it was the worst sort of overreach possible."
That same message was trumpeted earlier in the day by former Democratic U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, who said he was not in favor of abusing the state's recall law but believed it was warranted in this case.
Feingold spoke to volunteers during an morning strategy session hosted by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.
"It is unfortunate that we have to do it, but this really is about an unusual attack on the rights of the people, and it has to be answered," he said.
Immediately after his speech, the crowd began chanting "Run, Russ, Run!" Feingold thanked the crowd. But afterward, when addressing the media, the former senator reiterated his decision to stay out of the race.
"I want there to be a new governor," he said. "It won't be me."
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