Groups seeking to recall Gov. Scott Walker submitted nearly twice as many signatures Tuesday as required to force an election, an overwhelming number that may make an election later this year inevitable.
But Walker's opponents still must transform public outrage over his pushback against unions into actual votes to oust him from office. If the governor is worried, he's not showing it: As petitions were delivered to election officials, he was out of state raising money to defend himself and the agenda that has made him a national conservative hero.
The 1 million signatures that United Wisconsin, the coalition that spearheaded the effort along with the Democratic Party, said were collected far exceeded the more than 540,000 needed. The effort stemmed from anger over Walker's aggressive moves during his first year in office that included effectively ended collective bargaining rights for nearly all public workers.
Petitioners on Tuesday also were submitting about 300,000 more signatures than were needed to trigger a recall election against Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. Between 23 percent and 56 percent above the number of signatures needed were also collected to force recall elections of four Republican state senators, including Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.
The massive number of signatures against Walker - 85 percent above the level needed - could make it nearly impossible for opponents to successfully challenge enough of them to stop an election.
"I don't know if it's insurmountable, but it would be extremely difficult," said Joshua Spivak, a recall expert and senior fellow at Wagner College in New York. In the 2003 Gov. Gray Davis recall in California, petitioners also turned in almost double what was needed - 1.6 million - and only about 18 percent were tossed, Spivak said.
About 46 percent would have to be removed in Wisconsin for the election not to proceed.
Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate said given the number of signatures collected, Walker shouldn't seek delays and instead let the election proceed.
"Does anyone really honestly believe we're not going to have an election?" Tate said.
Walker's campaign spokeswoman Ciara Matthews said he was not available for comment Tuesday.
The governor's supporters have been training volunteers on how to vet signatures and they plan to create a database where names will be entered and verified. Walker has already successfully sued the state elections board to require it to do a more extensive review of the signatures than originally planned.
The Government Accountability Board has said its review will take 60 days or more and it will go to court this week to seek a delay beyond the 31 day review required under the law.
Tate said he didn't expect a Walker recall election would happen before May. Walker has been saying he thinks it will be in June.
Recalls have become common in Wisconsin since the political tumult of 2011 that saw Walker and Republicans pass the collective bargaining changes, one of the country's most restrictive laws requiring photo identification at the polls, and a budget that included an $800 million cut to public schools. The opposition started with massive protests and then grew into organized campaigns first to recall state senators and then Walker himself.
Last summer, six Republican state senators and three Democrats faced recall elections. Two Republicans lost, leaving the party with a narrow one-vote majority in the Senate.
The Walker recall couldn't officially be filed until after he had served a year in office, an anniversary that was hit earlier this month.
But he hasn't been waiting around to see if the recall will be successful.
Walker ran his first campaign television ad the night before recall petitions hit the street in mid-November. He's been on air nonstop, making arguments that while some of the decisions he made last year to balance a $3.6 billion state budget shortfall were difficult, the state is in a better financial position and will prosper in the long run.
Walker has been raising money at a furious clip. He was hosting a $2,500 per-person fundraiser in New York City along with Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, the founder and former CEO of American International Group. AIG was one of the world's largest insurance companies that nearly collapsed in the fall of 2008 at the height of the financial crisis and received about $180 billion in bailout aid from the government.
Walker has also recently attended fundraisers in Texas, Kentucky and Tennessee. He is taking full advantage of both the conservative star persona built as he put Wisconsin at the center of the national labor rights debate and a quirk in state law allowing those targeted for recall to ignore normal contribution limits until an election date is set.
As of mid-December, he had already raised $5.1 million, with about half of that coming from out-of-state donors.
Democrats, who have no candidate raising money to challenge Walker, concede they will not be able to match him dollar for dollar. Instead, they are counting on the same type of enthusiasm that drove the petition drive to translate into the campaign.
The two most prominent Democrats, former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold and retiring U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, have repeatedly said they aren't interested.
Even with that question looming, Democrats spent Tuesday celebrating.
The number of signatures collected represents about 23 percent of the state's eligible voters. In the 2010 election, Walker garnered just over 1.12 million votes on his way to victory over Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who got about 1 million votes.
Barrett issued a statement that praised petition circulators but did not indicate whether he would enter the race.
"It's time for a new direction that will heal our fractured state and move Wisconsin forward again," Barrett said.
The only other successful recall of a governor in the nation's history besides Davis was North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier in 1921.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)