Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Walker Won Second Debate

But neither candidate can close the sale in election. Why?

By - Oct 21st, 2014 09:36 am
Gov. Scott Walker

Gov. Scott Walker

Republican Gov. Scott Walker did an about face in his second debate with Democratic challenger Mary Burke. In the first one he decided to “largely ignore” Burke and spend his time “talking to the people of this state.” That was a big mistake, as I’ve noted, and clearly Walker went on the attack more this time. He hammered Burke’s record as Commerce Secretary repeatedly, he tied her to Jim Doyle again and again, and accused her of being like the classic politicians who say one thing and then do another.

It was a clear contrast to the first debate, where he seemed too tamped down, too constrained, I suspect because his campaign decided he’d better go easy on Burke, to avoid looking mean. This time around Walker looked more energized, more in command, more himself. The fact is, Walker is at his best on the attack: he does it in a way that’s so calm and folksy friendly that it’s almost edge-less.

Indeed, the Journal Sentinel declared that debate mostly featured “cautious disagreements,” but I think if you’d read a transcript of the debate, you’d see just how often Walker attacked. But his style belies that; Walker is the velvet assassin.

Had Walker done this more in the first debate, he might have left Burke flustered. But buoyed by her performance in the first debate, Burke looked more relaxed and confident. The studio lighting also seemed kinder, as her eyes seemed less hooded.

I still think Walker won. Debates are often won by the aggressor, and that was clearly Walker. He offered more specifics and was more responsive to his opponent, while Burke mostly stuck to her talking points. The topics discussed also made a difference. The first debate was more about raising the minimum wage, abortion restrictions, and Walker’s turndown of an estimated $500 million in federal health care money, all issues where polls show the majority of voters disagree with him. The second debate was more about economic development and the budget, which is what Walker’s campaign is all about.

Mary Burke

Mary Burke

Burke, however, did have one telling moment that displayed impeccable timing. She let Walker talk repeatedly about Doyle, implicitly and explicitly tying her to the ex-governor. Then, about two-thirds of the way through the debate, she responded, saying, “With the number of times that Gov. Walker has mentioned Jim Doyle, it’s clear he’d rather be running against him than me, but the hair alone should tell you that we’re two very different people.”

Walker went right back on the attack, but Burke’s statement had staying power.

The panelists’ questions did tease out some key differences between the candidates. Burke supports making first-time drunk driving a criminal offense, while Walker does not. Walker seems ready to use some of the state tax money that would be lost if there was no NBA team (from taxes paid by ball players, etc.) and use that to subsidize a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks, whereas Burke favors a subsidy only as a last resort.

Because she stuck to her script, Burke never responded to Walker’s repeated claim that the state is now doing well in job creation, a statement heavily based on a federal monthly jobs report he has previously claimed is inaccurate. Burke’s non-responsiveness here helped Walker immensely.

But Walker never found a way to combat Burke’s repeated claim, nay mantra, that she is business person who knows how to grow jobs and build the state’s economy. That’s why he kept going after her time as Commerce Secretary, but she left that job seven years ago, and the more he intermixed this idea with an attack on Doyle, the more it began to seem stale and irrelevant.

No, it was not a great debate, but it gave voters a clear sense of two very different candidates, neither of whom has closed the sale. In theory, either should have done so by now. Walker has been below a 50 percent approval rating during most of his term, which should have made him easy pickings for an opponent. Except that Burke is a very weak campaigner, so lacking in gravitas that Walker should have overcome her by now.

Instead we have a race that has basically been a dead heat since May. My guess is that swing voters have simply been looking for a reasonably strong alternative to Walker, but aren’t sure Burke is it.

Marquette Law School pollster Charles Franklin has hit on the perfect pair of questions to capture the dynamic of the race. He’s consistently found most voters believe Burke “cares more about people like you” than Walker. But they also believe Walker is more “able to get things done” than Burke. I doubt either of the two debates changed the voters’ views on this. Odds are, whichever attribute they decide is more important will decide the race.

Short Takes

-Journal Sentinel Dan Bice was among those slamming Fox6 news anchor Ted Perry for his last question, where would the two candidates travel in Wisconsin on an off-day? But this came with little time left for the candidate to answer anyway, and was a classic attempt to humanize the two candidates. It was okay in my book, Ted.

-Bice and Journal Sentinel managing editor George Stanley were grumbling on Twitter about the fact than no print journalist was on the panel. Print pros always look down their noses at broadcast journalists, often for good reason, but in this case the panel did a good job. In a bit of self-effacement you rarely see from journalists, TMJ4 reporter Charles Benson even yielded his time at the end for Perry to ask that oh-so-controversial question.

-And why was Burke referred to as “Miss Burke” rather than Ms.? Seemed all the stranger when the moderator was a woman, Erin Toner of WUWM radio.

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

29 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Walker Won Second Debate”

  1. PMD says:

    I don’t think it’s going to be as close as the polls suggest. Walker wins by 4-5 percent, meaning Burke does better than Barrett, but still falls short. GOP turnout will be strong. No presidential election. I just can’t see Burke winning.

  2. David Blaska says:


  3. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Debate was boring, watched by few people. Only thing that never comes up is the fact that Burke has no real plan to help Wisconsin grow and she spend all of their time with talking points, superlatives and cliches. Then she beats up on the job producing entrepreneurs, like Marx and Obama are always doing. To develop jobs you need smarts, ideas and CAPITAL. If we tax all that away you have Venezuela and Argentina..

  4. PMD says:

    Specifically, what were Burke’s attacks on job producing entrepreneurs? What exactly did she say about them? Direct quotes please.

  5. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    “Tx the Rich”, Tax the filthy Rich”, tax the crooked rich, income inequality, taxe the rich more, Walkers gifts to the rivh.

  6. PMD says:

    Yeah that’s what I figured. But don’t let reality get in the way of your talking points.

  7. Kent Mueller says:

    This debate was largely a snore, the first debate seemed to have a hand in moving Burke up to a head-to-head contest.against Walker. Clock management problems made it seem like amateur hour (time for a new clock) and, as my wife noted, Walker would never look at Burke or acknowledge her presence on the stage, while Burke could be seen paying attention to Walker when he spoke. Walker came off slick, Burke came off real.
    My sense is there was a massive drop-off in viewers for the second debate and what few undecidededs made up their minds after the first debate. Burke won the first debate, no one won the second and the second debate changed nothing.

  8. Cindy Van Vreede says:

    You’d think that after all these years of debates we could get four panelists that reflect our population. In a city with a minority majority they (the WBA) couldn’t find any black or Latino reporters or no women? I know the moderator was a woman, but she didn’t fill the role of panelist to ask questions.

  9. tim haering says:

    I’ve heard that Burke line somewhere before. IT lacks the ring of originality that Reagan wrought with “There he goes again.” I’ll find it eventually. I like your analysis. “Velvet assassin.” The SUbtle KNife. The Velveteen Rabbit. But a governor’s job is selling their state. After 2 debates and a campaign filled with broken-record talking points, Burke obviously has no salesmanship, not a drop of charisma. If we have to choose one of these 2 to sell WI, Walker wins. And this is what voters will realize in voting booth epiphanies around the state.

  10. PMD says:

    You mean selling their state to the highest bidder? Mining companies and what not? He is indeed very good at that.

  11. tim haering says:

    highest bidder. Blah blah blah. This is what capitalism is all about, what made America America – big corporations running roughshod over the land and its people. And look where we are today. It’s competition. Get over it. Scott Walker is a better Harold Hill than Mary Burke, who doesn’t even make a good Marian Paroo.

  12. PMD says:

    Ha. I knew what you meant, and yes, capitalism is grand. Never said otherwise. I’m just not sure that Walker has done that great of a job “selling” Wisconsin, or that that is the most important trait in a governor. Wisconsin is not in a better place than it was on the day he was sworn into office. It’s worse, more divided, more unstable.

  13. tim haering says:

    Didn’t mean to sound so callous. But when you try to regulate away the bad outcomes, you ruin good outcomes too. Any entrepreneur will tell you, any athlete or musician or artist will tell you, any major dude will tell you – you must be willing to fail and fail spectacularly in order to succeed. No amount of govt can smooth that process. Capitalism flies by the seat of its pants and improvises like hell. It’s not a symphony, it’s the blues.

    Don’t be so focused on the trees, PMD. Would you even buy a bike from BUrke?

  14. PMD says:

    I already have bought a bike from Burke. Loved my Trek. So yes, indeed, I would.

    I don’t understand this right-wing talking point that WCD loves to spew about Burke hating capitalism and hating entrepreneurs and hating business builders. It is complete and total BS. She is part of a family with a major business based in this state. She hardly hates business builders. That is pure poppycock.

  15. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    She hates business cause she has been unable to get job for last 7 years. She was disaster at Doyle administration and was no good at Trek. Good bikes, used them myself. she is part of the 1% but hates them. No one wants her. She needs to get job so she ran for governor.

  16. PMD says:

    That post literally makes no sense whatsoever WCD.

  17. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    I figured it would be far too complicated for the average Liberal who is just interested in hate. Conservatives know that the Left is really stupid and the Left thinks that the Conservatives are evil.

  18. PMD says:

    Stupid versus evil. Sounds like an epic showdown, but evil wins in the end after it outsmarts stupid.

  19. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Have not said that Conservatives are evil, they are only ones that care about inner city. But stupid has been wining till everyone found out that they were right about obama.

  20. PMD says:

    Oh right. Only conservatives care about the inner city. And only liberals care about lowering taxes for the 1%.

  21. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    If they care they are either really stupid or incredibly incompetent since the last 100 year that they have been in charge things are worse. MPS worst in nation. I am from Wisconsin, “Show ME”.

  22. PMD says:

    I am also from Wisconsin. The real world just isn’t as black and white as you portray it WCD, where one and only one political party cares about the inner city or the middle class or entrepreneurs.

  23. Mia says:

    Walker won the second debate? If no one was around to actually watch it, did he really win?

  24. Kyle says:

    If the headline on relatively liberal site reads “Walker Won Second Debate”, then you can imagine what the conservative sites have to say about it. Given that most people will only see the headline as they scroll through the news feed looking for pictures of celebrities, that’s the new narative, whether anyone other than Bruce and Mark Belling watched the debate or not.

  25. PMD says:

    Yeah but if no one watched it and therefore no one decides who to vote for because of it, does it matter what the new narrative is?

  26. Kyle says:

    PMD, if the content of the actual debate were what mattered, then you’d be right, it wouldn’t matter. If the influence only extended to those who read the whole article, then it still wouldn’t make much of a difference. But most people don’t look beyond the headlines (or the talking points – who actually reads anymore?). If they did, Obamacare and the ACA wouldn’t have such different approval numbers. Elections these days aren’t about independent voters anymore. It’s about turnout, and the fringe voter who is somehow still on the fence between voting and watching Simpsons reruns. Both campaigns are just trying to hammer in the point that the other candidate is going to lose, and who wants to make all that effort just to vote for a loser (or the exact opposite – We’re going to win, come vote for a winner!). So the headlines of Walker making gains in the polls and Bruce Murphy saying Walker won the debate play toward the Republican narrative, at least for this news cycle. By the next news cycle, we might be talking about what wonderful things people are finding in the latest Walker email dump. But again, I suspect far more people will read the headlines and not the stories.

    (That got longer than I planned, so I apologize if I WCD’ed my point a bit.)

  27. PMD says:

    No apology necessary.

    Just yesterday I read that Burke has a 1 point lead according to a poll from a GOP firm (Rasmussen). So is it Walker or Burke who is making gains in the polls? News cycles change quickly.

    I agree that people only read headlines these days, and that the election hinges on voter turnout (especially since basically no one is undecided when it comes to this race).

  28. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Kyle, you are right. That is why the Journal and the newspapers are drowning in red ink. No one reads more than 3-4 paragraphs anymore. Long columns, I scan to read the 2-3 paragraphs that matter.

  29. PMD says:

    The scarcity of good, long-form journalism is sad. You come across it every once in a while, but all too rarely.

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