In the very building where the modern Republican Party was founded more than 150 years ago, the worker collecting the entry fee from tourists said that he, for one, has had enough of what the party is up to these days. And he says he plans to show it when he goes to the polls Tuesday in a legislative recall election that will help determine the fate of the conservative revolution in Wisconsin.
New Republican Gov. Scott Walker's aggressive agenda, especially his move to strip public employees' unions of most collective-bargaining rights, has "kind of jump-started a lot of people's awareness of what's going on in the state," said Brian Reilly, 28, who said he intends to vote against the Republican state senator he supported in the past.
Over the next two weeks, eight Wisconsin state lawmakers -- six Republicans and two Democrats -- will face recall elections as part of the political backlash from Walker's confrontation with Democrats last winter. Protests and a boycott by Democratic state senators effectively shut down the state Capitol for weeks. The GOP must win at least half the races or it will lose sole control of the Legislature and the ability to continue advancing its policies.
The votes will provide a new gauge of the public mood about the direction of government eight months after unhappy voters ousted incumbent Democrats and gave conservative Republicans control of the governor's office and the Legislature. The GOP made similar sweeping gains in other states in the midterm election.
For Republicans, victory in the recall campaign would vindicate their spending cuts and new business-friendly policies, while raising hopes of President Obama losing next year in a swing state he won by 14 points in 2008. Democrats hope voters believe Republicans have gone too far, especially in attacking workers' rights.
"It's not clear whether the mood has shifted dramatically enough to recall Republicans, but it's certainly shifted enough to make some tight races," said Katherine Cramer Walsh, a University of Wisconsin political science professor who directed a recent poll that found dissatisfaction with both Democrats and Republicans.
The poll, conducted statewide last month, showed 59 percent of voters disapproved of the job Walker was doing. But 48 percent also disapproved of the Democratic state senators who left the state for three weeks to prevent the Legislature from acting. Fifty-six percent said they disapproved of the Republican-controlled Legislature's actions. The survey did not address the opinions of voters in the districts with recall elections.
The significance of the recall ballots is reflected by the fact that national conservative groups and national unions have spent millions of dollars in the contested districts, six of which are held by Republicans. Two of the Republicans appear vulnerable and three face tight races. If Democrats win five of the eight seats, control of the Legislature will be divided, producing a deadlock until the 2012 elections.
Two Democratic incumbents face elections on Aug. 16.