Ted Bobrow
Governor’s race

Early money and going for the jugular

By - Feb 5th, 2010 07:40 am
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Gaining momentum, gathering support.

Gaining momentum, gathering support.

Anybody over the age of three knows the important role that money plays in politics, so the amount of effort that candidates and their campaigns spend fundraising shouldn’t come as a surprise.

The Internet age has transformed the world of political fundraising; candidates can now hit supporters up for donations with a click of a mouse, making the living room coffees of the past seem kind of precious.

One thing hasn’t changed — the spin that candidates engage in when the campaign finance reports are made public.

Maybe you heard Scott Walker’s claim that the number of people who contributed to his campaign was so vast that it crashed the state’s Government Accountability Board’s website.

Of course, the GAB issued a news release of its own denying that its system crashed, which may give a voter pause supporting a candidate who plays so loosely with the truth.

Political observers will surely note that this kind of shenanigan is hardly unique and that nearly every campaign uses such pronouncements from surrogates to gain the upper hand in the scrum for attention.

But the bottom line is the amount of money raised matters, and Barrett and Walker have both raised prodigious amounts.

Walker, who seems to have been running for governor since he dropped out of college, has about $2 million in the bank while Barrett, no piker at fundraising, has $1.6 million.

One difference, in addition to the fact that Barrett only recently declared his candidacy, is that Walker is facing a primary challenge. Former Congressman Mark Neumann has pledged to spend up to $3 million of his own money on his campaign and isn’t showing any signs of deferring to party preferences to avoid a contested intramural race.

Former Democratic operative Bill Christofferson trenchantly observes that Walker spent $900,000 in the six month period covered by the latest campaign finance report, while Barrett spent a mere $70,000.

Barrett is just getting started, of course, but his reputation of frugality in previous campaigns and in his Congressional office suggests that it will be difficult to paint him as a spendthrift.

Another theme that will surely be explored during the campaign is Barrett’s so-called toughness. Milwaukee magazine editor Kurt Chandler delves deeply into this subplot in his magazine’s February cover story.

Chandler recounts how the campaign of then-Attorney General Jim Doyle (managed, by the way, by the now semi-retired Christofferson) battered Barrett with attacks focusing on his use of Congressional campaign funds for his gubernatorial race, a totally legal and previously uncontroversial practice.

Barrett stuck to his pledge of running a positive campaign and lost.

Chandler suggests that Barrett learned his lesson and didn’t miss the opportunity in the 2004 mayoral election to bash incumbent Marvin Pratt for fundraising improprieties that were being reported on an almost-daily basis.

Of course, Barrett, one assumes quite unintentionally, also contributed to the new, tougher image when he took a swing at a thug who was threatening bystanders, including his family.

It’s important to note, however, that throwing a Marquis of Queensberry punch at an assailant who responds by nearly crushing your skull with a tire iron isn’t exactly a toughness we look for in our elected officials.

And Pratt’s difficulties descended on Barrett like so much manna from heaven. It remains to be seen if he has the fortitude to exploit the Achilles’ heels of his opponents who aren’t so readily apparent.

Barrett clearly knows that this new tough guy image works to his advantage. But will he be comfortable swinging the tire iron in a political street fight?

Stay tuned.

Categories: Gray Matter, Politics

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