Did Walker or Barrett Win Debate?
Barrett was punchy, Walker was cool. Which strategy will convert more voters?
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.
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.”