By Miles Brown
Feb. 9, 2014
Democrats in Wisconsin are hoping that the third time will be the charm come November when they run former state Commerce Secretary Mary Burke against incumbent Republican Governor Scott Walker. The first two elections — one a general election and the 2012 recall — were incredibly disappointing for Wisconsin’s Democrats. But this time around is likely to be just as disappointing if Democrats don’t change their strategy.
Instead of waiting till 2014 to build ammunition and find a great candidate to possibly unseat Walker, the Democrats went ahead with a recall in 2012. This was their first mistake. Not only did they rush the recall, but they chose Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett to run against Walker. Yes, that same Tom Barrett who lost convincingly to Walker just two years prior. When you’ve already lost a race against a tough opponent, the odds aren’t in your favor when you run again for the same seat. In fact, Barrett actually lost by a larger margin in 2012.
While the recall was a disappointment, their zeal to get him out of office wasn’t necessarily unreasonable. Over the past few years, Walker has shown blatant disrespect to a select (left-leaning) portion the state’s public employees. These employees and their families responded with widespread protests garnering national attention, causing Walker’s job approval ratings to dip below 50 percent.
Following his recall win Walker has been stumping for Conservative candidates nationwide, his coverage nationally has steadily increased and his name is being touted as a possible Presidential candidate for the Republicans in 2016. Not to mention that the Republican National Committee chair is his close friend and former head of the Wisconsin RNC Reince Preibus. These developments make this upcoming election in November that much more vital for Democrats both in Wisconsin and nationally.
Walker’s brand of petty and divisive politics has severely damaged Wisconsin. It’s not even the policies themselves, but rather his refusal to be a leader and at least pretend to discuss policies with the Democrats. Seeing that touted and promoted on a national stage is just the complete opposite of what America needs for its politicians, especially after the year we’ve had.
In Mary Burke the Democrats have a very viable candidate who has some recognition statewide, given her stint as Commerce Secretary under former Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle. She has a strong business background, serving as an executive for Trek Bike Company. Her platform is very well thought out and presents a stark contrast to Scott Walker’s brand of viciously partisan politics. She matches up well with him and presents herself as a formidable opponent. Just how formidable? A month after declaring, she trailed Walker by only 2 percentage points. That was in November. What has happened since then? Nothing, except Walker has opened up an even bigger lead on Burke.
I know it’s only February and there’s so much more campaigning to do, but at this point two-thirds of Wisconsinites don’t even know who Burke is, and her national exposure is certainly significantly less than Walker’s. This strategy of laying low and being on the defensive isn’t going to work and never has. Not being proactive in attacking Walker on his controversies, policies and lack of political sophistication is why the Democrats lost in 2010 and 2012. It’s not enough to coast on the hate and contempt people have for Scott Walker. If you’re not out there selling your candidate as a sound alternative then you will lose.
Just as the recall win put Scott Walker on the national radar as a conservative leader, a second Democratic mess-up will all but ensure Walker takes on a national presence far beyond his current standing. A win for the Democrats would do a lot to put that to rest. So, let’s at least put up some semblance of a fight against Walker this time, shall we?
Miles Brown is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He’s majoring in political science and history with a certificate in Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies. His political stance is best described as classic Progressivism in the vein of Theodore Roosevelt and Herbert Croly. His post college plans are, as yet, undecided, but he’ll probably go into public policy research.