Matt Pommer: Gubernatorial politics have turned retail as spring inches into Wisconsin

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Matt Pommer
Sunday, April 6, 2014

Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Mary Burke are busy asking for campaign donations, and there appears to be substantial interest in attracting small donations. The small donors are people who, after they donate $10 or $20, likely will talk positively about their candidate in church basements, bowling alleys, taverns and other places when people gather between now and November.

The small donation also puts you on the candidate’s mailing list for the important weeks before the election.

It’s a major shift for Republicans. Earlier the Republican Governors Association spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in an advertising campaign to help Walker by criticizing Burke. The latest Marquette University Law School poll showed the GOP ad campaign had little impact.

The poll, taken in late March, showed Walker ahead of Burke 48 to 41 percent among likely voters. That’s a one-point gain for the governor since the previous poll late last year, but it is in the range of polling error. While Walker gained in the head-to-head comparison, his job approval ratings slipped to 47 percent favorable and 47 percent unfavorable.

Democrats took heart in answers about whether the candidates “care about you.” Walker had a negative 8 percent response, while Burke had a 7 percent favorable set of answers.

Some 60 percent said they favored requiring voters to show IDs before casting ballots. It is one of Walker’s key positions. He has said he will call a special legislative session if necessary to achieve the ID requirement. Critics say it is an effort to suppress the vote among the poor and minorities.

The poll showed that 63 percent favor increasing the minimum wage, a position advocated by Burke. Walker denounces the idea of increasing Wisconsin’s minimum wage.

Walker won the 2010 gubernatorial race in part by promising the state would add 250,000 private-sector jobs. The Marquette poll shows that 80 percent think Walker won’t reach the promised goal. Republicans continue to put an optimistic face on the number of jobs created.

More than four decades ago, U.S. Sen. George Aiken, R-Vt., facetiously suggested how to end the Vietnam War. Bring the troops home, march them down Pennsylvania Avenue and declare a victory, he said.

Perhaps Republicans could just declare victory on Walker’s job promise.

This year’s campaign promise by Walker is that property taxes won’t increase in the next four years if he is re-elected.

But the governor might know politics better than his critics think. He has rebuffed questions by reporters about the emails uncovered in a John Doe investigation while he still was Milwaukee County executive. Walker has said that was old news and he was moving on.

The Marquette poll showed that controversial emails have not resonated negatively with voters. Walker has won, at least at this point, the exchange with reporters and editors over what he knew about the emails.

Meanwhile, the governor is pursuing his 2016 presidential ambitions. The email controversy has been lost in the national interest regarding New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s bridge scandal. The public better understands a traffic jam than email correspondence.

Little wonder then that the gubernatorial candidates are lining up small donors to help carry their messages to friends. A few dollars can have an impact in different ways.

One of former Gov. Tommy Thompson’s favorite political stories was his first primary race for the Assembly in small towns in central Wisconsin. Each day his dad gave him $10 to campaign. Thompson would stop in the taverns to shake hands and might end up buying a drink for the town drunk, he recalled.

The town drunk would spend the rest of the day praising him, Thompson quips.

Matt Pommer writes this Wisconsin Newspaper Association weekly state government newsletter. He is dean of the state Capitol correspondents, having covered government action in Madison for 36 years. Readers can contact Pommer at mpommer@sbcglobal.net.

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