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Posted at 7:31 AM ET, 03/ 1/2011

Unions winning battle for public opinion in Wisconsin

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake

A plurality of people nationwide side with labor unions over Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) in the ongoing budget standoff in the Badger State, according to a new Pew Poll.

Forty-two percent of people said they favor unions, while 31 percent take Walker's side and another nine percent take neither side in the skirmish.

The Pew numbers are the first credible polling since Walker introduced his budget repair bill and state Senate Democrats left the state to prevent the Republican majority from being able to pass it.

Protests -- organized by unions -- have ensued with thousands of people flooding the state capitol to try to force Walker to back away from a provision in the bill that would eliminate collective bargaining for public-sector employees.

Walker has set today as a hard deadline, insisting that the failure to pass his budget plan will force the state to bypass an opportunity to re-finance its debt -- and cost Wisconsin voters $165 million in the process.

Looking inside the Pew numbers, it's clear that the budget showdown has, not surprisingly, devolved into a partisan fight. More than two-thirds of self-identified Democrats take the unions' side in Wisconsin, while 53 percent of Republicans side with Walker. Independents are almost evenly split; 39 percent back the unions, 34 percent take Walker's side.

There is also a considerable age -- and race -- divide at work in attitudes toward the Wisconsin situation.

Those between 18 and 29 years old are broadly supportive of the union position -- 46 percent support versus just 13 percent support for Walker -- while a plurality of people 65 years of age and older back the Republican governor in the dispute.

White voters are almost equally divided, with 38 percent favoring the unions and 36 percent behind Walker. Non-white voters are not; 51 percent back unions in the dispute, while just 19 percent side with Walker.

Wisconsin Democrats -- and national unions -- have shown no signs of budging in the dispute, and the Pew numbers -- when coupled with a new CBS News/New York Times poll that shows 60 percent of Americans oppose taking away collective bargaining rights to balance state budgets -- are almost certain to embolden them to continue the fight.

It's worth noting, however, that the Pew numbers come from a national sample and not a collection of Wisconsin residents. While Walker doesn't want to lose the public relations battle on the issue at the national level, he's almost certainly more concerned with how the people who elected him -- and he will ask to re-elect him in 2014 -- feel on the issue.

The Pew poll is, like all polls, a snapshot in time, and the Wisconsin situation remains very volatile. When so many people are paying such close attention, momentum can shift in a moment. But, for now, the momentum appears to be on the side of the unions.

Stenberg to enter Nebraska Senate race: Nebraska state Treasurer Don Stenberg (R) will launch his campaign for Sen. Ben Nelson's (D-Neb.) seat this morning, setting in motion the first big-name GOP primary of the 2012 election cycle.

Stenberg, who is already up with a campaign website, will face another statewide official, state Attorney General Jon Bruning, for the GOP nomination.

Stenberg, a former state Attorney General himself, is no stranger to Senate contests. In fact, he has run three time before, including winning the Republican nod and nearly beating Nelson for an open seat in 2000.

This time, though, Bruning begins the race as the favorite -- an up-and-coming young Republican without the losses that mar Stenberg's record.

But Bruning will also have to answer for some liberal things he wrote in college -- an issue Stenberg is already highlighting

"Nebraska's next United States Senator needs to be a genuine, lifelong conservative!" blares Stenberg's new campaign website.

RGA launches pro-Walker ad campaign: The Republican Governors Association has launched an ad campaign in support of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, accusing state Democrats of "fleeing their responsibility" and "running away from tough problems."

Last week, the RGA launched a "Stand With Scott Walker" website. But some Republican governors have been reluctant to fully embrace Walker's confrontational approach.

A spokeswoman for the Democratic Governors Association was quick to respond to the ad, saying it "underscores the mean-spirited approach embraced by many Republican governors who have chosen to wage partisan, political battles instead of focusing on creating jobs and increasing opportunity."

NRSC targets Kaine: As Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine weighs a run for the open Senate seat in Virginia, national Republicans are wasting no time trying to define him.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee is launching a new website and online video aimed at labeling Kaine as "Cheerleader in Chief" for the political left.

The site aims to attach Kaine to all manner of liberal priorities -- things that might not do so well in Virginia. Kaine is expected to make a decision on the race soon, and this is clearly an effort by Republicans to color that decision, along with defining Kaine from the outset.

Fixbits:

Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) did what Ken Jennings couldn't, besting the IBM supercomputer "Watson" in an exhibition round of "Jeopardy!" Holt, besides being a congressman, is a five-time champion on the TV show.

A new EPIC/MRA poll in Michigan shows Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) in a virtual tie in a prospective matchup. Stabenow is at 44 percent, while Hoekstra (who is not in the race) is at 42.

Could Minnesota crash the party and hold its caucuses Feb. 7 -- one day after Iowa's?

Politico's Ben Smith finds that Mike Huckabee may be a little off-base with his criticism of Mitt Romney's health care bill.

Former Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), who resigned Monday to take an influential public policy position, was courting Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn (D) to run for her seat two weeks before she announced her retirement.

President Obama is offering some less-than-helpful praise for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney's (R) effort at health care reform. Romney's plan has been compared to Obama's -- something that probably won't help him in a GOP primary.

Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn says Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) could have a primary challenge from the left in 2012 -- and that doesn't even include the fact that Altmire's district could be drawn into another Democrat's during redistricting.

Must-reads:

"For Iowa GOP, 'the one' for 2012 is 'no one' yet" -- David Lightman, McClatchy

"The effects of union membership on Democratic voting" -- Nate Silver, New York Times

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake  | March 1, 2011; 7:31 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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