Who Will Win Democratic Primary?
Eight challengers for governor, primary just weeks away, who are the favorites?
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.
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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