Is State Suffering Walker Fatigue?
One clear sign would be if Leah Vukmir loses U.S. Senate primary.
The hope for Democrats in the race for governor is that voters might be suffering from Walker fatigue.
Including his presidential campaign and his recall campaign, there have been four political campaigns for Scott Walker since 2010, as Appleton Post Crescent reporter Madeleine Behr has written, and “citizens who aren’t fervent supporters may be growing fatigued and might want a fresh candidate.” “With eight years of baggage as governor… I think people are ready for a change,”Joe Zepecki, a Democratic strategist told the newspaper.
There’s more enthusiasm among Democratic voters, as La Crosse County Republican Party Chairman Bill Feehan admitted in a Wisconsin State Journal story. “Yeah, there’s a difference in enthusiasm and politics is governed by cycles,” he admitted, while adding that he wasn’t worried for Walker.
Democrats point to the recent elections in Wisconsin, including four special elections for the legislature and the race for State Supreme Court, where Democrats outperformed the results state-wide and in all four legislative districts, compared to the 2016 presidential election and 2014 race for governor. On average, as Democratic analyst Tom Russell has noted, the Democrats improved their percentage by 21.6 percentage points over 2014 and 18.4 points over 2016.
That sounds impressive, but special elections, and even the race for Supreme Court, had a much lower turnout than the November race for governor will have. Will that huge switch in party preference occur with a far higher turnout of voters?
One sign to the contrary is suggested by the recent Marquette University Law School poll, which found that 71 percent of Democrats are “very excited” about the upcoming elections compared to just 67 percent of Republicans. That four point difference is below the national enthusiasm edge of seven percent for Democrats nationally, as measured by a recent CNN poll. (And that was down significantly from a 14 point enthusiasm edge as recently as April.)
The enthusiasm edge is critical, because it’s a way of measuring possible turnout. Walker’s job approval stands at 49 percent, with 47 percent disapproving, in the most recent MU Poll, which suggests the governor cannot afford a big enthusiasm gap, nor even a minor outbreak of “Walker fatigue.”
Yes, the poll shows Walker leading every possible Democratic candidate for governor, but a huge percentage of respondents don’t know enough about the Democratic candidate to have an opinion, whereas all have an opinion of Walker. The governor’s four point edge in a matchup with leading Democrat Tony Evers thus looks far from formidable, considering 61 percent have no opinion of Evers at this point.
One Republican who clearly doesn’t think there’s a fatigue factor is state Sen. Leah Vukmir, who is betting her whole race in the primary for U.S. Senate on Walker’s popularity. Vukmir is clearly the GOP establishment candidate against Democrat-turned-Republican Kevin Nicholson. She won the party’s endorsement after an overwhelming 73 percent of delegates at the state Republican convention chose her over Nicholson. She has been endorsed by Republican congressmen Paul Ryan and F. James Sensenbrenner.
But Vukmir isn’t just running as the GOP establishment candidate, but more specifically as the pro-Walker candidate. Technically the governor is neutral in the Senate race, but his wife Tonette has endorsed Vukmir and the latter finds every opportunity to announce her kinship with the governor. From her first piece of literature, which declared that “Leah Stands With Governor Walker. Stand With Her,” to a radio ad declaring that “Leah stood with Governor Scott Walker and Republican leaders in the tough fights that made the Wisconsin comeback possible,” she has repeatedly portrayed her and Walker as a team.
But that’s not the message Walker seems to be emphasizing. The ever-canny politician clearly seems worried about wearing out his welcome. His warnings about a “blue wave” may have simply been a calculated pitch to campaign funders, More telling is how he is recasting himself as the “education governor,” a big change from his longtime portrayal as the pro-business, low-taxes governor. It’s the new Scott Walker for those tired of the old one.
The Republican establishment clearly backs Vukmir and most in the party expect her to win the primary. But the Marquette poll shows Nicholson with the lead, with 37 percent of those expressing a preference, to 32 percent for Vukmir. Nicholson is campaigning as the anti-establishment outsider, so his victory would clearly be a rebuke of the party he proposes to represent. But more specifically it might show that even GOP voters are tiring of everything Scott and his loyal lieutenant Leah have been preaching for eight years.
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