The Ticket

Bill Clinton casts Wisconsin recall as referendum on ‘divide and conquer’

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Clinton speaks to an audience in April. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

Do you support division or compromise?

That's the choice former President Bill Clinton presented to an audience gathered Friday morning at a rally for Wisconsin Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett. Barrett is facing Republican Gov. Scott Walker in a special recall election contest being held Tuesday, June 5.

Clinton flew to Milwaukee Friday morning to get out the vote for Barrett—who currently serves as the city's mayor. Wisconsin used to be viewed as a state where different people found common ground, Clinton said. "Now, [outsiders] look at Wisconsin, and they see America's battleground between people who want to work together to solve problems, and people who want to divide and conquer," he said. "Cooperation versus conflict."

Clinton hit out at Gov. Walker and his supporters as tea party extremists who are so hellbent on avoiding compromise, they're willing to risk stagnation and impasse.

[Related: Clinton praises Romney's 'sterling business career']

"Nobody's right all the time, and a broken clock is right twice a day," Clinton said. "To have a divide-and-conquer strategy is nuts."

Clinton used the recent Indiana Senate primary as a warning, saying Republican Sen. Dick Lugar's record of compromise and bipartisanship was his downfall at the hands of the tea party.

"That is what is wrong with America today!"

Walker was targeted by Democrats and labor groups for recall following his successful 2011 campaign to end public employee collective bargaining in the state.

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The "divide and conquer" language used by Clinton Friday references remarks Walker made after his 2010 election about dismantling unions. Footage of the governor's "divide and conquer" remarks was recently released as part of a trailer for a documentary on jobs unrelated to Walker. Democrats and other Walker critics quickly seized on the comments as a way to undermine Republican claims that the collective bargaining measure was prompted by budget concerns.

Clinton's decision to make a last-minute push for Barrett ahead of Tuesday's vote was welcome news to Democrats in the state, who haven't received significant support from the national party.

Polls show Walker with a slight lead. A Marquette University Law School poll released Wednesday showed Walker with a 7-point lead, within the survey's margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

Walker has significantly outspent Democrats and rallied tea party supporters and others across the country who have made this race into a national referendum on the tea party movement, independence, labor and fiscally conservative values.

Walker is set to campaign Friday with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (who ran for the GOP presidential nomination this cycle) and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal have all campaigned for Walker during the recall.

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