Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Who Will Win Democratic Primary?

Eight challengers for governor, primary just weeks away, who are the favorites?

By - Jul 19th, 2018 10:58 am
Tony Evers, Kelda Roys, Mattt Flynn and Mahlon Mitchell.

Tony Evers, Kelda Roys, Mattt Flynn and Mahlon Mitchell.

Anyone who watched last week’s desultory debate by the Democratic candidates for governor may have been left wondering if any of these candidates has a chance to defeat Republican Gov. Scott Walker. With eight candidates on the stage and no one getting much time to speak, it was hard for anyone to stand out. No one really shined. But someone has to — and soon. 

The latest Marquette Law School, released yesterday, certainly showed why Walker is vulnerable: a high disapproval rating and voters not happy about the condition of the state’s roads or convinced the money going to Foxconn is worth it. But the poll also showed there was little knowledge of nearly every challenger for governor. So where does that leave the Democratic primary? In order from worst to first, here’s how I handicap the race: 

8th: Josh Pade. Why, Josh, why? Why did you enter this race, with no political record, no message and no money? Some day you might want to run for, say, Assemblyman, or maybe even Dogcatcher, and Democrats may remember how you cluttered up the primary with this useless ego trip.  

7th: Kathleen Vinehout: The good news for the three-year term state senator is she can’t possible do worse than Pade. The bad news is everything else. Her on-stage presence (the nice aunt who doesn’t look at the camera) is un-telegenic, her message is muddled, her political views (past opposition to abortion rights and gun control) are out-of-step with Democratic primary voters and her campaign ranks third from the last in raising money and second worst in conserving her cash: she’s spent 97 percent of the dollars raised and has almost nothing left.

6th: Paul Soglin: Does Soglin really want to win this campaign? There’s reason to doubt that, whether it’s his casual dress — a Hawaiian shirt — at one forum, the fact that he was so willing to volunteer the potential negatives of his candidacy at the last debate, or that he ranks second last in money raised, ahead of only nonentity Pade. The longtime Madison mayor probably knows more about state and local policy than any of his opponents, but Soglin’s candidacy has the feel of a busman’s holiday without anyone else on the bus. 

5th: Mike McCabe: McCabe might have had a chance as outsider candidate at a time when so many voters seem disgusted by both parties, but delivering speeches about racism in a state that’s 87 percent white might not be the way to accomplish this. McCabe is actually a well-meaning, nice guy, but on TV comes off as oddly intense and unlikable. That might explain why he’s actually declined in the Marquette Poll, which, whatever the margin of error, isn’t easy to do when you started with just 6 percent of primary voters. 

4th: Mahlon Mitchell: No Democrat has done better at raising money than Mitchell, who has brought in just over $1 million to date. But he’s also burned through $644,000 of that money, a higher total than any other Democrat, while going nowhere in the MU Poll, from 4 percent in February to 6 percent this month. Mitchell is good looking, goes over well on TV and has the backing of unions, which means he may still raise more money. But he lacks a powerful over-arching message, often seems short on specifics, and still feels more like a good choice for running mate (he ran and lost as a Democrat for Lt. Governor in the 2012 recall race) than atop the ticket. 

3rd Matt Flynn: Flynn was the first to send out a press release blasting Walker for meeting with an accused Russian spy, and along with Kelda Roys has been the best at opportunistically jumping on such issues. He also — thank heavens — got rid of his outdated, Kennedy-eque hair and now looks far more professional. And he stands out by being the only veteran, and only candidate to promise he will fight Foxconn in court. Flynn is articulate, can hit hard and yet retain his sense of humor. His first TV ad is very effective. But he turns 71 in October, and may seem past his prime to voters. Nor does it help that he keeps getting dogged about his work defending the Catholic Archdiocese and its pedophile priests — an issue Republicans will hammer against Flynn.  

2nd Kelda Roys: Is it too early to suggest this is becoming a two-person race between Roys and front-runner Tony Evers? Roys has certainly been sharper on the stump than she was in last week’s debate, but she has three-plus weeks to hone her message, has run a smart campaign and has much more cash on hand ($668,000) for campaign ads than any other candidate (Flynn is second with $403,000). And the one (online) ad she’s done to date went viral nationally. Roys can be good touting her mix of private sector and government experience, and has understated strength that may serve her well debating Walker. And this is a great year to be a woman candidate; Roys is touting a poll showing 76 percent of women and 65 percent of men in the state are excited to elect a female governor. That and her youth (she’s just 39) make her a clear candidate for change.  

1st: Tony Evers: His campaign has been less than earth shattering, yet Evers has steadily risen in the MU poll, from the choice of 18 percent of voters in February to 31 percent this month. Meanwhile no other Democratic candidate got more than 6 percent in the last poll. Evers hasn’t had to do much because his three straight victories for the post of state Superintendent of Public Instruction has given him the most name recognition. Evers makes a good spokesperson for the need to spend more on education, an issue Walker could be vulnerable on, and he radiates calm and the sense he’d be a steady hand at the tiller. But he’s not very exciting as a speaker and may lack the toughness needed to take on Walker. 

This is clearly Evers race to lose. Roys would have to do everything right to overtake his huge lead in less than four weeks, but she is the best positioned of his competitors. And Evers support may be soft, mostly based on name recognition. 

If Evers does win, the result will be ho-hum, whereas a Roys victory would be a major upset that automatically brings more excitement into the general election. Kelda will be fresher face and probably a stronger opponent for Walker. But she has to make that case between now and the August 14 primary.  

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Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

18 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Who Will Win Democratic Primary?”

  1. Terry says:

    All of these candidates are far, far superior to crooked Career Politician Scott Walker who has destroyed democracy and sold Wisconsin off to his Big Corporate donors all while mooching off of taxpayers and Big Government every day of his adult life. That said, Democrats in WI wanted Bernie, not another namby pamby middle of the road candidate like Hillary. The republicans have openly embraced fascism under Trump and Walker and I’m not sure a moderate centrist like Tony Evers will win any votes from Northern WI unless he changes his stance immediately on stopping FoxCON and legalizing cannabis. People in rural NO WI hate the FoxCON fiasco and they want legal cannabis now. I’d winnow it down to Roys, Flynn, Mitchell and McCabe.

    Dump Walker 2018

  2. LenaTaylorNeedsToResign says:

    Kelda must make Bruce’s Spidey Senses tingle. Note that he didn’t mention her awful showing in the MU Poll, but he did with other candidates he was eager to discount.

    I do agree Flynn’s new hair looks great.

  3. andsoitgoes says:

    People need to hear and understand how haves came to own and control our political economy and how to start turning that around. Yes, I know…nation-state tasks mainly, but who is brave enough or smart enough to even speak of such radicalism as taxing and regulating wealth and capital, regulating finance, promoting a mixed economy, laws to promote unionism etc…? Not one. Not even the Dem U.S Senate candidate. Stuffing ballot boxes isn’t the only way to make elections undemocratic. A two party system where both operate under the same basic economic free-for-all does not make a democracy. We can do better than voting while holding our noses. Clearly it won’t be this election. Stop opiate addiction (as if!) and save family farms long gone. I lost hope in this election almost before it started. Walker is a supreme stinker with his secrets, loyalty oaths, lies, avoidance, and just plain taking advantage of people he took an oath to serve. Quite the little worker for those capitalist elites though. Walker has to go and so do his little GOP minions in the statehouses.

  4. says:

    McCabe is the only candidate who will work to get big money out of Wisconsin politics. Until that happens, all of the other problems this state faces will go unresolved. We live in a state where legalized bribery has become the norm. As head of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, McCabe knows this better than anyone. The money he has raised so far does not come from unions or corporations or big personal bank accounts. It comes from ordinary folks giving far less than the $1000 limit he has set on contributions. As an Independent, he will not be bought by anyone (including influential Democratic Party leaders).

    He has traveled around the state more than any of the other candidates, he knows that winning in Madison and Milwaukee will not be enough to defeat Scott Walker, and–as Murphy says–he is a genuinely honest and decent person. He’s the guy I’ll be voting for!

  5. PMD says:

    It doesn’t matter who wins. Walker just raised what almost $6 million compared to the $600K of the Dem who raised the most? He’s vulnerable but with all that money and being the incumbent Walker is going to win.

  6. Adam says:


    Don’t underestimate how much having the orange guy instead of the brown guy in the Oval office this election changes the complexion of the electorate. It can and likely will make all the difference. And Walker is asking for a third term, which is a much larger ask than a second term. It’s basically hey, let me big gov for life at this point.
    And then there is Russia and spies and 2015. Will it go anywhere? Probably not, but we all know Walker has a track record of being dumb enough and corrupt enough. He will take money from anyone offering it to him that’s for sure!

  7. Troll says:

    It appears Tony Evers will take the crown and if your Scott Walker and your in a tight race their is no one better to match up against. Vuhkimir would be a better fit for Walker on ticket.

  8. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    PMD- Whoever wins the primary will have millions poured into their account by Labor Day and millions more are waiting with national groups. That is a bad reasoning.

    Walker spent millions in ads and more on tax dollars for photo ops in the last month…and lost 2 points on approval in a GOP-leaning electorate.

    The large number of “don’t know/no opinion” responses among alleged primary voters tells me that Franklin’s poll was shoddy and should be thrown in the trash. Evers likely leads on name recognition, but I think the door is open for someone to catch fire and/or consolidate the non-Evers vote. And I agree that Roys seems like the candidate most likely to do it (especially with women under 50 years old), with the other possibility likely to be Vinehout or McCabe, who have legit grassroots excitement and backing.

    This take is worth what you paid for it.

  9. Bill Xoff says:

    Good analysis. I sense some movement to Roys though it hasn”t shown in the polls yet. But 31 to 3 is a steep climb in a few weeks. And Vinehout may steal some of the women’s vote Roy is counting on. Forget any candidate who is not on TV. Not gonna happen.

  10. PMD says:

    Yes like I said Walker is vulnerable and comes with plenty of baggage and a far from impressive approval rating. But the Dems in this state are great at losing and I don’t see this race being any different. Evers is not going to excite the electorate and drive up turnout. I detest Walker with the fire of a thousand suns but I think he wins by a few percentage points not because the state loves him but because the Dems blow it.

  11. Timothy J Haering says:

    Fair analysis, Bruce. I woulda began your headline with “Does it matter …” I think you sell Mitchell short but you make the salient points on his non-executive demeanor. Only Evers comes off with any executive cred. Shame about VInehout, I like her moderation. Maybe if she tried a 10-point refrigerator magnet. Here’s to the new boss, same as the old boss.

  12. Thomas says:

    It will be difficult to def’eat Walker because Walker is good at winning elections. He has been running for office after office almost continuously since his cloudy college days, and he has won time after time. He isn’t much good in the leadership positions he has won because he is more a puppet than a leader. Any Democrat who could cogently define leadership could defeat Walker if our gov called on Trump to stump for him. Trump could have a Trump Moment and remind us that he called WI “a basket case” under Walker during the 2016 primaries.

  13. Dumbledore says:

    One of the issues that comes up with a crowded primary field is Wisconsin’s archaic practice of having separate elections for Governor and Lieutenant Governor. If this were a presidential primary you would see opportunities for pairing of candidates to build coalitions; one could easily envision a ticket with Evers as Gov and Roys as Lt. Gov but that literally cannot happen now in this race.

    Even Scott Walker (reportedly) didn’t get paired with the Lieutenant Governor he supported when he first ran in 2010.

    If this is a Wisconsin Constitution issue it should be a prime consideration for a change.

  14. Jeff says:

    Thx for this concise summary. Helped.

  15. pplr says:

    Some good points yet it lacks the single most important thing. A poll of a held to head faceoff against Scott Walker.

  16. John Griffith says:

    Bottom line : Which candidate has the best chance of beating Walker? Marquette poll suggests McCabe does the best in one to one with only 2% behind while others are ^-8% or more behind in Head to Head match up. He has a broader statewide appeal than the others and with Wisconsin Democracy Campaign having a strong statewide social media presense I would not so easily dismiss his possible rise to the top. Evers has not been able to move beyond the numbers he has had from the beginning. Others appear to young or long in the tooth for todays electorate. We have had recent experience of electing someone 70+ . I hope for the sake of our next generations we give McCabe anoyher look see.

  17. Terry says:

    There are McCabe signs everywhere up north. Haven’t seen a single Walker sign yet, unlike in previous election years. What a justaposition that would be on the debate stage! On one side you have a corrupt, greasy, lying, scheming Kochsucker named Career Politician Scott Walker with billionaires pouring millions in Dark Money to prop him up and on the other side you have a Wisconsin born and bred farm boy who never lost his sense of basic decency and morality and is running a strong grassroots campaign on small time donations to unite and prosper, not divide and conquer like Walker said he would and did. Now all of Wisconsin suffers for it. A house divided cannot stand! McCabe would crush in Madison, Eau Claire, Milwaukee, Ashland and Bayfield counties. Just sayin…

  18. Cheryl says:

    McCabe has a farming background. I think he really needs to emphasize that, and he could be a player in most of the “red” parts of our state. I also like Kelda, but worry that she would not have much appeal outside of Madison and Milwaukee. I think Ehlers is a snooze factory. I truly hope he doesn’t win based on name recognition alone. Sigh.

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