Walker Won Second Debate
But neither candidate can close the sale in election. Why?
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.
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.
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.
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.
-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.