Support for Scott Walker strong in St. Croix County

Walker volunteer
A volunteer works the phone for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's campaign in Hudson, Wis. Wednesday, May 23, 2012. Walker is being challenged by Tom Barrett in the June 5 recall election.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

On Tuesday, voters in Wisconsin will decide whether Republican Scott Walker should serve out his term as governor. The first ever gubernatorial recall in state history is a rematch between Walker and his 2010 Democratic opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Statewide polls show the race is very close, but in St. Croix County in western Wisconsin, Walker enjoys strong support.

The recall election was scheduled after Democrats and labor unions collected nearly a million signatures calling for Walker's ouster. They objected to a law he championed forcing public sector union members in the state to contribute more toward health insurance and pensions, put limits on pay increases and forced unions to seek annual recertification.

Mary Yacoub of Hudson was one of many volunteers this week at the Walker campaign's St. Croix County Victory Center, working the phones to encourage others to vote for the governor.

Phone banking
Charlotte Skoviera, left, and Mary Yacoub volunteer at the St. Croix County Republican headquarters in Hudson, Wis., as Yacoub's three-year-old daughter Sophia plays Wednesday, May 23, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Yacoub, who serves on the Hudson City Council, likes the tools Walker gave state and local governments to limit their spending.

"I like the fact that my property tax bill didn't get raised this year," said Yacoub. "I like the fact that he stands by his convictions, and I think he truly cares about this state."

A lot of Yacoub's neighbors feel the same way. In the 2010 election, Scott Walker won St. Croix County by a whopping 25 percentage points.

Suzie Umbel is active in the local tea party group, and she has a simple explanation for why this area has so many Scott Walker fans.

Candidate signs
Signs supporting both Scott Walker and Tom Barrett line Vine St. in Hudson, Wis. Wednesday, May 23, 2012. Tom Barrett is running against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in the June 5 recall election.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

"I think it's because of income and income tax," she said. "My husband and I are very successful and we're in a very large income tax bracket. It's fine, but I think people are looking for relief, so that you've got money left over that you can do with what you want to do with, what you're passionate about, rather than what the government is passionate about."

St. Croix County has the second highest median household income in Wisconsin, at more than $67,000 a year, and it's also the fastest growing county in the state in terms of population -- primarily because of its proximity to the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area.

Hudson, the county seat, is the very first exit off I-94, when you cross over into Wisconsin. It's become a popular bedroom community for young parents who work in the Twin Cities, according to Scott Hodek, an economist with the Wisconsin Office of Economic Advisors..

Barrett supporters
Tom Barrett supporters wait to greet the Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate during a campaign stop at Keys Cafe & Bakery in Hudson, Wis. Wednesday, May 23, 2012. Barrett is running against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in the June 5 recall election.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

"People move out there, start families, and they keep their jobs in the cities," said Hodek. "They commute every day, but they've got the whole rural lifestyle that they were looking for as well."

There's a ring of places just like St. Croix County surrounding the metro area. They're called the exurbs -- like suburbs, but farther away from the urban core -- and they almost always vote Republican.

The people who are drawn to the exurbs are also drawn to the GOP, according to state Rep. Dean Knudson, who represents the Hudson area in the Wisconsin State Assembly.

"They want to have a good quality of life," he said. "They want government to provide a safety net, but not provide everything for them, and oftentimes just get out of their way so they can live their life."

St. Croix County may be a Republican stronghold, but Democratic candidate Tom Barrett packed a Hudson cafe at 8 a.m. last Wednesday for a campaign stop here.

Recall election
Wisconsin Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett talked with supporters during a campaign stop at Keys Cafe & Bakery in Hudson, Wis. Wednesday, May 23, 2012. Barrett is running against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in the June 5 recall election.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

"Our values are at stake here, and it is so important -- it is so important -- that we do everything we can between now and June 5th to get people out to vote," Barrett told the crowd.

Joan Schneider drove up from neighboring Pierce County to hear Barrett speak.

"A lot of my friends came here this morning, and we're delighted that Tom Barrett would come to this enemy territory," she said.

Schneider can't imagine Barrett winning St. Croix County. But Susan Stori, vice chair of the county's Democratic Party, isn't deterred.

"What would you have us do? Quit? We don't quit," she said.

Stori expects more Barrett supporters in her area to vote this time. She says Democrats here are motivated now. She saw that awakening last year in the turnout for the party's monthly meetings.

"I think it was January that we had maybe six or eight people. The month later, we had 150," she said.

With polls showing few Wisconsinites undecided, Walker and Barrett's campaigns agree that turnout will decide this election. That's why both sides are working hard to reach their voters in St. Croix County.