MADISON, Wis. - Tens of thousands of marchers swarmed Capitol Square through a cold drizzle on Saturday to protest Gov. Scott Walker's policies and promote a petition drive to recall him in two months.
Capitol police estimated that 25,000 to 30,000 people marched, many holding signs calling for the Republican governor's ouster.
Walker has been targeted by critics angry about his cuts to public education and the new limits he imposed on the collective bargaining powers of public workers.
Organizers have until Jan. 17 to turn in more than 540,000 signatures. They have said they plan to seek 600,000 to 700,000 signatures to account for signatures that may be invalidated.
United Wisconsin, the coalition spearheading recall efforts, said the group is well on its way to having those totals. Spokeswoman Heather DuBois Bourenane said the coalition gathered more than 105,000 signatures by late Friday, putting them 15 percent of the way to 700,000 after four days.
The coalition added one more high-profile signature Saturday. After telling several hundred volunteers a recall was unfortunate but necessary, former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold told the crowd, "Where do I sign?"
The crowd chanted "Run, Russ, Run" and "Governor Feingold," but the Democrat and former three-term senator repeated his earlier statements that he wouldn't enter the race.
"I want there to be a new governor," he said. "It won't be me."
While Walker talked during the campaign about making public workers pay more for their health insurance and pension benefits, he didn't campaign on the proposal he ultimately introduced that did away with nearly all of their collective bargaining rights.
"His hit on collective bargaining was a stealth campaign and it was the worst sort of overreach possible," Jeff Kravat, a member of the local chapter of MoveOn.Org and a recall volunteer, told the Wisconsin State Journal.
Walker has said the changes were necessary to give schools and local governments the flexibility they needed to deal with cuts in state aid necessary to balance a $3.6 billion budget shortfall.
When asked about the rally, Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said: "The only campaign Governor Walker is focused on is the one to help the private sector create 250,000 new jobs."
Many of the marchers said they were angry over the loss of collective bargaining and cuts to both education and programs for the poor.
Retired high school English teacher Marie Martini, who now teaches college part-time, said she was concerned about kids who are sick, hungry and homeless and not getting the education they deserve.
"It's shameful that we're allowing all this to happen," Martini, 62, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "We're sacrificing our future."
Tim Magee, 59, of Evansville, said a Walker recall would send a message to the country that it's wrong to balance the budget at the expense of children and the elderly.
"This is very unfair," he said. "You work all your life, and then they want to abandon you. That shouldn't happen. Not in the richest country in the world."
Governors have been recalled from office only twice in U.S. history — in North Dakota in 1921 and in California in 2003.
Democrats have not yet announced a candidate to take on Walker should enough signatures be collected to force an election. The earliest such an election could occur, without any expected delays in verifying the signatures or legal challenges, is March 27. Most expect any election would be later in the spring or in the summer.