Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Why Walker’s Liberal Campaign Tactics?

His ads target Burke for not being liberal enough. Is he desperate -- or crazy like a fox?

By - Jul 24th, 2014 12:50 pm

Scott Walker has to be very worried. The latest Marquette Law School Poll shows an electorate whose views have hardened — like concrete — into an evenly divided view of him. Half love him. Half hate him.

Mary Burke

Mary Burke

In May he was dead even with Democratic challenger Mary Burke, with each candidate supported by 46 percent of those polled. Yesterday’s poll showed Walker at 46 percent and Burke at 45 percent.

Among likely voters it was Walker 48 percent and Burke 45 percent in May while in yesterday’s poll it was 47 percent Burke and 46 percent Walker. What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is a dead heat.

The reason is crystal clear. Nearly everyone has already made up their mind about Walker. As Marquette Law School pollster Charles Franklin puts it, “the two parties are so diametrically opposed on this.” Walker is seen favorably by 45 percent of voters and unfavorably by 47 percent, while in May, it was 47 percent favorable and 48 percent unfavorable.

All these minute changes in the numbers mean very little, because they are within the poll’s margin of error of 3.5 percent (up or down). In statistical terms the voters’ views on Walker seem frozen.

Which means is there is very little Walker can do to change the electorate’s view of him. Money spent on ads touting his accomplishments probably will have very little payoff. But what he can do is go negative, and change people’s perception of Burke.

The voters’ views on Burke have yet to solidify and are the one aspect of the race that could still change. Nearly half of Wisconsin voters — 49 percent — say they haven’t heard enough about her and don’t have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Burke. Among those that have an opinion, 26 percent were favorable and 24 percent were unfavorable.

This is a huge opening for Walker. Indeed, it may be the only real strategy available to consolidate a majority of the vote. He wants to define Burke before she can define herself. That’s why you’ve already seen a run of negative ads by Walker or his supporters blasting Burke. They want to pound her with attack ads until everyone has an impression of Burke, the more negative the better.

Sure, this can and will trigger return fire from Burke. But there isn’t that much downside to a nasty, negative campaign for Walker. For starters, he has more campaign cash: the most recent report shows he has three times more cash on hand than Burke, and he’s likely to retain at least that big an advantage. So he can afford to run more ads.

Secondly the voters view of Walker is so hardened he risks little with negative ads: supporters will approve and opponents already planned to vote against him.

Thirdly, the general wisdom is an overly negative campaign can turn off voters in general and depress turnout. And while Walker’s supporters tend to turn out in non-presidential years, Burke’s are more iffy. The MU poll shows her big edge is with young voters aged 18-49 and with single women — both the sort of voters less likely to turn out in non-presidential elections.

Still, it is one thing for Walker to go negative and another for him to employ a liberal populist attack. His recent ad criticizes Burke and her family’s Trek bicycle for “making millions of dollars sending jobs overseas that could have been done in Wisconsin.” This is taking a page out of the playbook of the Obama campaign, which condemned Mitt Romney for doing this. This is aligning Walker with the philosophy of liberal Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin. The approach is so bizarre it quickly generated criticism in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece.

Walker at first seemed to be responding to Burke’s criticism of the governor for giving tax incentives for businesses that outsource jobs. But he soon doubled down on his attack, calling Burke a hypocrite for supporting an increase in the minimum wage “and yet personally profiting from a company [Trek} that sends work to China where they make two dollars an hour.” Piling on, Walker charged that Trek “hasn’t paid corporate income taxes since 1982.”

Wow. This is far to the left of many Democrats in its anti-business attitude.

“I’m sure they’ve done some research and found that’s going to play well with whatever constituency you’re trying to reach,” said Felicia Miller, a former Procter & Gamble brand manager who teaches marketing at Marquette University, in a story by the Wisconsin State Journal.

But what is the constituency Walker’s trying to reach? Certainly not his supporters, who Walker is banking on overlooking his sudden burst of lefty populism. Perhaps the small group of independents left in Wisconsin. But more likely the liberals in Wisconsin who support a minimum wage and feel businesses don’t pay enough in taxes — exactly the voters Burke needs to turn out in November.

“Traditionally that’s more of a Democratic issue and perhaps can peel away some Democratic voters,” the ever-cautious Franklin concedes.

Half of the voters still have no strong opinion of Burke. And the MU poll shows the likely voters in November lean left, at 32 percent Democratic and 25 percent Republican. Anything Walker can do to sour liberals and Democrats on Burke makes them less likely to turn out.

Almost from the time Burke announced she was entering the race, Republicans have been eagerly pouncing on any evidence Burke is not liberal enough for the far left of the party. All the evidence of this was listed by the national Republican Governors Association.

But for Walker — rather than some surrogate attack dogs — to engage in business bashing to blacken Burke is a dangerous game for a Republican to play. As Miller told the Wisconsin State Journal, “It’s a tightrope and it can definitely backfire.”

The fact that Walker is willing to take this chance suggests how worried he has gotten about the campaign. Perhaps the most sobering data in the latest MU poll was the switch among independents in Wisconsin; in May Franklin found Walker ahead by 9 percent but by July this had dropped to a one percent lead.

I had assumed Walker would simply ride hard on the tax cuts he delivered as governor and try to stay above the fray in the campaign. But we’re seeing some signs of desperation. Walker must turn the majority of those voters without an opinion of Burke against her. If not, he’s very likely to lose the election.

Short Takes

-Why did the last poll show a loss of support for Walker among independents? Franklin points to two factors: the bad publicity related to the John Doe investigations of Walker and also, “the economic news has not been particularly good.”

-Will minority and young voters, both of whom lean heavily Democrat, turn out in the election? Walker needs a turnout like 2010, led by Tea Party fervor. Burke needs a turnout more like the presidential elections of 2004 through 2012. Franklin notes the exceptional job the Obama campaign did on turnout in 2012, but doubts it can be duplicated. “Call me a skeptic,” he says. “I’m waiting to see if it can work in mid-term elections.”

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

12 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Why Walker’s Liberal Campaign Tactics?”

  1. Matt says:

    Walker has some giant vulnerabilities that you are ignoring, outside the fact that half the state dislikes him.

    1. He won’t say he’s running for president although we know he is
    2. He won’t say he was a major proponent in the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, and now won’t provide his new and improved position, because it is either that of the bigot or that of the flip flopper

    3. He won’t say that his 250K job pledge was just some pie in the sky stuff he did to get elected

    4. He won’t say he is putting off deciding the casino question because it is in his interests to keep both sides guessing, even though he said he wouldn’t do that.

    5. He won’t acknowledge hiring all those felons for the county, or bringing them to Madison. Or hire the racists he let go because he found out they were racist.

    6. Oh yeah, will anyone mention the abortion restrictions?

    So he can try and define Burke and hope the Democrats follow the same dumbass off year strategy they always do. But his BS can be highlighted as easily as his bald spot, and everything he tries is actually quite easily deflected. His best strategy might be to ignore Burke altogether and hope her campaignis as dumb as Tom Barrett’s. So far, it looks like it may be.

  2. PMD says:

    Wouldn’t a stronger candidate be destroying Walker in the polls? The state’s economy is struggling. There have months and months of John Doe headlines, including a recent one suggesting Walker was part of a “criminal scheme.” Yet the race remains tied. I mean Sam Brownback trails his opponent by 6 points in conservative Kansas.

  3. Observer says:

    I’m amazed. I was pretty sure that Walker was beatable provided the opponent was someone not from Madison or Milwaukee. The animus outstate against this state’s two largest cities is staggering. I was pretty sure that Wisconsin was going to have two Republican Senators and I certainly misread the urban vote in the last Senatorial election. I think a Kathleen Vinehout candidacy would have had a double digit lead at this point. Beloit, Janesville, Fond du Lac, Appleton, Milwaukee and Racine will have to get out the vote. If they do, we have a new Governor.

  4. fightingbobfan says:

    Politics is a chess game and I’ll bet the Burke campaign has a counter move in the can. It is also my bet that people are not paying attention and will look closer at this election after Labor Day.

    What the campaign hasn’t talked about much has been Mary’s hands on philanthropy. This is not something that could have been talked about early in the campaign because people would have been tired of it.

    Nevertheless, Mary selling her large house to help the poor and other things she has done to disencumber herself of a large portion of her fortune does not make her a Mitt Romney, disdainful of the 47% takers. There will an attack of the soft and fuzzies in September.

  5. Andy says:

    This ad to me was more about calling Burke out for using Trek as her example of growing jobs and keeping them in state when in reality they sent jobs overseas and less about the pos/neg of outsourcing in general. What I don’t get though, is how the Walker people didn’t foresee their opponents changing that message around and portraying it exactly the opposite.

  6. Dave K says:

    I swear the talk radio people could convince 50% of Wisconsinites to amputate one of their hands with the promise that they’d grow back two of them.

    Truly, we’re dealing with people who are trained to vote against their own self interests and to support the super-rich in some kind of fantasy land where making a handful of oligarch super-rich will somehow trickle down to the other 97%.

  7. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    In 1982 the dems condemned Terry Kohler for having factories in other states. He had acquired some companies. Going to China is far worse.

  8. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    In 1968 Gaylord Nelson told a bunch of us that in Wisconsin any good dem or any good GOP candidates were assured of around 46% or so. Has never changed.

  9. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Dave K thinks that we are all stupid. Cannot foll all the people al the time. Obama has shown that, so did Doyle, Joe McCarthy etc. Our cumulative intelligence is far better than the dopey people believe.

  10. Observer says:


  11. PMD says:

    Three posts and not a single one addresses the subject of the story.

  12. RW says:

    Anyone ought to agree that it is wrong for Trek to send jobs to China. It is even more egregious for a Trek board member
    to push minimum wage while outsourcing jobs at less than 20% the wage being proposed. The snarky tone and misleading ideas hinted at are idiotic.

    That Wisc. governors have given tax breaks to companies, especially Trek, is an ordinary happening and should happen to keep jobs in Wisconsin. Is anyone able to find fault in Walker’s actions, really?

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