During his first term in office, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker gained a nationwide reputation for his often polarizing yet unapologetically conservative agenda.
He feuded with public employees over their collective bargaining rights and was subject to a recall vote because of it. He enacted income tax reductions and oversaw property tax reductions. He signed a controversial law requiring women to get an ultrasound before getting an abortion, and he enacted a controversial voter ID law now tied up in court.
Now, Wisconsin voters must decide whether they're up for four more years of the Walker agenda. If they are, political analysts say, Walker should serve as a model for Republicans nationwide who may be hesitant to pursue an aggressively right-leaning agenda.
"I don't think there's a single issue where you could point to a Walker policy that puts him anywhere but to the right in his party," Prof. Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll, told CBS News. "That ideological foundation of his governing and policy style sets him up as an example to other conservatives."
- Chris Christie, Michelle Obama bring star power to Wisconsin
- Republicans on their heels in several governors' races
Any undecided voters (and there appear to be very few, according to recent polling) may tune in Friday night for the second debate between Walker and his Democratic challenger Mary Burke, the former Trek Bicycle executive and former Wisconsin Commerce Department secretary.
During the debate, Walker can point to some positive economic statistics to make his case: For instance, the state ended the last fiscal year with a $517 million surplus, and during his term, Wisconsin has been one of the best-performing states when it comes to business growth.
Yet even with a relatively solid record to tout, Walker has faced a rough re-election campaign. Polls have shown a close race for months. The latest Marquette poll released Wednesday showed Burke and Walker in a dead heat, with each candidate garnering 47 percent support from likely voters. Just 4 percent of likely voters say they're undecided. An earlier Marquette poll gave Walker a slight lead, but in this poll, independents have shifted their support in Burke's direction.
Republican strategist Mark Graul told CBS News that the race is this close largely because of Walker's moves on collective bargaining.
"It has everything to do with collective bargaining reform... When you look at the [economic] metrics, Scott Walker should be cruising toward an easy re-election." He's not though, Graul continued, "because he was willing to do something a lot of politicians aren't able or willing to do."
Paul Maslin, a Democratic strategist in Wisconsin, contended that the race is about more than just the collective bargaining dispute.
"Everything he's done in the succeeding two years has gotten him in the trouble," Maslin told CBS, citing issues like Walker's failure to deliver on his campaign promise to create 250,000 jobs, as well as the scandal surrounding allegations of campaign misconduct.
"The entire question is revolving around Scott Walker and what the next four years will be like if he's re-elected, and that's where his problem is," Maslin said. "The average Wisconsin middle-class, independent voter -- who probably voted for Obama but also voted for Walker in the recall -- is thinking, 'If we put him in for four more years, what happens to me? Does he care about me?'"
The Marquette poll shows that voters are effectively split on whether Walker "cares" about them. They give Burke the advantage on that question.
Walker has tried to appeal to voters as a reasonable, caring candidate, even when it comes to divisive issues such as the restrictive abortion law he signed. In an ad defending the law, Walker looks into the camera and says, "I'm pro-life. But there's no doubt in my mind the decision of whether or not to end a pregnancy is an agonizing one. That's why I support legislation to increase safety and to provide more information for a woman considering her options."
While it may or may not be related to such ads, the Marquette poll does show that Walker has managed to erase the advantage that Burke previously had with women voters. At the same time, the poll shows that Walker no longer has an advantage among male voters. However Franklin said that at least part of this shift in the gender gap may simply have to do with natural polling variation.
In a race this close, in which so many voters have already made up their minds, the outcome will likely come down to turnout. To generate excitement among their respective supporters, both candidates are bringing high-profile politicians with them on the campaign trail. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who serves as head of the Republican Governors Association, has campaigned with Walker, while President Obama -- who won Wisconsin in both 2008 and 2012 -- will join Burke on the trail.