Bruce Murphy
The Chatter

Did Walker or Barrett Win Debate?

Barrett was punchy, Walker was cool. Which strategy will convert more voters?

By - May 29th, 2012 09:24 am
Scott Walker and Tom Barrett Encourage You to Vote

Scott Walker and Tom Barrett Encourage You to Vote

At first glance, you might figure Mayor Tom Barrett won the Friday night debate against Gov. Scott Walker.

The usually-bland Barrett has been transformed in this race, and pummeled Walker repeatedly. Barrett accused Walker of waging an ideological civil war, of dividing friends and families across the state, of a divide-and-conquer and punish-your-enemies style of governing, and Walker never really addressed any of this.

The mayor called Walker the “only governor in the country” with a criminal defense fund and challenged him to release his emails from the period of time being investigated. Walker had no answer.

And so it went. When Barrett challenged Walker to release records regarding how often the governor was out of state raising campaign donations, Walker didn’t directly respond. Ditto when Barrett called on the governor to reveal who is paying for his legal defense fund.

But Barrett was nearly as unresponsive to Walker’s policy-oriented challenges. Walker took credit for lowering property taxes, balancing the budget and slashing the deficit and Barrett never addressed this. Walker said “our reforms are working” and that’s why the Democrats aren’t talking about them, and Barrett had no rejoinder. Walker charged that Barrett planned to reverse the law restricting collective bargaining rights and restart the same battle, and Barrett wouldn’t deny this.

Yes, there were times when both candidates addressed each other’s points, but they were exceptions. Barrett’s strategy was to make this a debate about character and who is more trustworthy. Walker’s preferred to make this a debate about who has the best policies.

That was obvious in the post-debate press releases from both sides, both undoubtedly prepared before the debate. Barrett’s handlers declared the debate was about “honesty” and “trust” and Barrett’s style of “bringing people together” and “listening to all sides.”

Walker’s handlers emphasized policy, charging that Barrett “dodged questions concerning his plan for a state budget” or “how he would have dealt with the $3.6 billion deficit.”

If you were awarding points in the debate I’d give it to Barrett because he was sharper in rebuttal and more of the debate’s time was spent on issues he raised. But you can win the debate and lose the election. Walker’s implacably calm and civilized style on the podium could undercut Barrett’s characterization of the governor as a bomb-dropping divider. Ultimately it depends on what the small percentage of undecided voters think is more important, a governor’s policies or leadership style.

Journal Sentinel Ignores Investigative Report

The “new report” Barrett mentioned in the debate was by the Madison-based Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, which analyzed the first 13 months of the governor’s official work schedule and found it “shrank” in the fall and winter at a time when news reports “describe Walker jet-setting around the country for fundraising and other political events.”

The story relates directly to Barrett’s charge that Walker is more concerned about being a “rock star for the right” than a problem solver in Wisconsin. But the state’s largest newspaper passed on it. The Journal Sentinel often ignores the rest of the media, preferring to do its own stories, but it’s unlikely to get to this in the small time left before the election. So why not serve its readers by letting them know about the report?

Walker’s Strategy Revealed?

Walker’s post-debate press release declared that “Barrett continually attempted to run away from his failed record in the state senate, congress and as the mayor.” That’s an odd charge, since Walker never attacked Barrett’s congressional or state senate record in the debate.

But it may be a tip to Walker’s strategy: to charge Barrett with voting for tax increases as a state legislator and congressman. Why didn’t Walker try this tack?  He did attack Barrett’s record as mayor, but Barrett shot back that the county budget and the unemployment rate both soared on Walker’s watch as county executive. Similarly, an attack on Barrett’s time in the state legislature opens the door for Barrett to note that Walker voted for a right-to-work bill as a state legislator, something most private sector union members bitterly oppose.

Walker may have decided to leave well enough alone and just concentrate on defending his policies as governor. But there’s another debate on Thursday night.   Either candidate could decide to drop some new issue on the other.

Did Barrett Miss an Opportunity?

Former Milwaukee School Board member Bruce Thompson had an interesting comment after my last column regarding the recall: “My reading…is that a majority of Wisconsin voters believe that Walker went too far in Act 10. But a majority also does not support returning to the situation that existed before. If so, the Democrats need to present a vision for what collective bargaining should look like in the future. Dangerous, because they risk antagonizing the unions, but their silence allows Walker to paint them as planning to return to the status quo.”

There is a case to be made for reforming the law to eliminate excesses like the examples of abuse of overtime by public workers, but I’m sure Barrett’s folks decided not to open that can of worms. Once you start to admit there were some abuses, you start to strengthen Walker’s case for reform.

New York Times in Wisconsin

The NYT Sunday Magazine did a powerful story on the recall election called “Land of Cheese and Rancor.” Walker declined to be interviewed.

The most striking theme was just how much the definition of Republican has changed in Cheeseland, with such details as these:

-The history of the 1967 state law extending collective bargaining rights to state employees — passed on a 31-0 vote in the state senate and signed by GOP Gov. Warren P. Knowles;

-The consternation of Republican Barbara Lorman, who was defeated by Scott Fitzgerald in the 1994 primary for the seat he now holds, and who opposes Act 10 and supports Democrat Lori Compas, who’s trying to recall Fitzgerald.

-And the lonely stance of Republican Sen. Dale Schultz, an avid hunter who believes the mining bill did not adequately protect the environment.

Compas, by the way, organized the recall herself, as the Democratic Party felt Fitzgerald couldn’t be defeated. She filed the papers, created a website, Facebook page and Twitter account all in one day. Her husband came home and was “a little upset,” as Compas recalls it: “I left for work and it was a normal Friday,” he said, “and I come home and you’re recalling the Senate majority leader.”


Categories: The Chatter

7 thoughts on “The Chatter: Did Walker or Barrett Win Debate?”

  1. D says:

    I respect Bruce Murphy but this site has gone a bit too political for my tastes. I would rather hear about Milwaukee development not Barrett vs. Walker.

  2. Dave Reid says:

    @D And we definitely will continue to cover, and hopefully expand our development coverage as well as coverage of urban issues (transit, biking, artchitecture/design) that we have always done…

  3. Lionel Stansyck says:

    I’m depressed. This article is spot on. Barret just has not stepped up to really talk policy. The worst case scenerio is that this makes democrats look bad enough that not only does Barret lose but that this hands the state to Mitt Romney. Granted Obama will win the presidency, but it would be awfully embarrassing if Wisconsin voted red for the first time in almost 30 years!!!

  4. Gruffy says:

    I never thought I’d say this, but Walker creamed the debate for the exact reasons that are illustrated in this article. Getting rid of the totally insane union health care monopoly is a good thing (even a progressive like me agrees). The unions have been so insanely stubborn that they brought this on themselves. Not that they should have been destroyed, however.

    Barret never stands up with vision or ideas!!! If he had done that a year ago this never would have happened.

    Heck, killing high speed rail is enough of a reason for me to get behing the recall, but I”m very pessimistic that Barret is going to pull it off.

  5. Gee says:

    Wow, the spin of some commenters here, parroting the incredibly in-the-tank JS.

    Get away from the JS and read the debate coverage around the state, even around the country. State and national media agree with the obvious: Barrett won the debate, hands-down. Walker hardly was present, he wasn’t prepared. Heck, he wasn’t even prepared to ask the closing question that he knew ahead of time was part of the format.

    As for Barrett’s plans and policies, you’re not getting to get that in this pseudo-debate format of a series of soundbytes, and you certainly aren’t going to get that from the JS — but Barrett has been talking about his plans and policies at every event. Of course, you probably don’t want to bring yourself to mix with Barrett backers. But if you can be online here, you can go online to the Barrett site and see the answers to your questions.

    Unless you’re like Walker, and you have no questions but just want to make up s*it here.

  6. getch says:

    what website are you looking at? Barrett’s site is full of fluff, he does not give answers, because he cannot. He has no idea what the WI senate and house will look like, and if those recalls will be successful. If Barrett wins, and WI senate and house stay the same, he will not be able to do anything. Therefore, I am not sure what plans you see? I have been through his issues section, and he only has a plan for education, that being the Ever’s Plan. If you believe his “Green jobs” is a jobs plan, then he is narrowed minded. Green Jobs needs to be apart of the plan and not the whole plan. He cannot promise anything and can only run on the John Doe, Woman’s right’s, past county ex. work, campaign money. Will that sway independents? Will that sway typical non-voters to vote?

    I do agree that the JS should not be your only site for info, but it should be apart of the mix.

  7. Tyrell Track Master says:

    I too am depressed.

    Not just because Walker is going to win, but mainly because the screaming hordes are going to shove this down everyone’s throat making it even harder to get sensible urban policies in place. Just watch Walker build a giant 8-lane beltway around Milwaukee next year.

    I am deeply suspicious of public unions. Otherwise I’m as left as they come. That’s the big problem here. If Barrett had a plan to keep modest union reform on the agenda, he would win.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us