Remember Us?

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It was a long time coming, but Wisconsin seems to have finally regained its “key battleground state” status in this year’s presidential election. At least for the moment, anyway.  For much of this election cycle, we’ve been missing out on the action, a second tier state that Democrats believed would be theirs on Election Day, never seriously in jeopardy.

If it takes two to tango, Wisconsin has been missing a dance partner.  While Republican nominee Donald Trump has been to Wisconsin five times, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton hasn’t been here once. It might be argued that given Clinton’s struggles in Wisconsin—a crushing primary loss in 2008 to then-Sen. Barack Obama and a 2016 April primary defeat which saw her lose 71 of 72 counties to Sen. Bernie Sanders—surrogates like Sanders and Chelsea Clinton might be more effective campaigners than the nominee herself. Whatever the reason, Clinton has focused her personal attention on other states. Her campaign only recently began running ads in Wisconsin, a true indicator of a state’s relative importance in the election.

But if you believe recent public opinion surveys in the first tier battleground states of North Carolina, Florida, and Ohio, the race has tightened considerably.  Wednesday, Real Clear Politics released its latest Electoral College “No Toss Ups” Map. Using the latest state-by-state polling, Clinton would squeeze out the narrowest of victories in the Electoral College, 273 votes for her, 265 for Trump.  Continue reading “Remember Us?”

Finally, a Little Good News for Governor Walker

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We’ll leave it to others to analyze the results of the latest Marquette Law School Poll and what they tell us about the April 5 presidential primary.  Instead, let’s focus for a few moments on the other favorite political pastime in Wisconsin: Debating the fortunes of Governor Scott Walker.

His job approval rating remains well under water. But is it possible that the governor could be smiling, even just a little, after today’s release of the Law School survey?

At first glance, it’s yet another poll where Walker fares poorly.  Fifty-three percent of registered Wisconsin voters disapprove of Walker’s job performance.   Only 43 percent approve.  But the numbers are finally showing signs of improvement for Walker.  He hit a low of 37 percent job approval last fall, shortly after his presidential campaign flamed out.  Since then, his job approval number has hovered around 38 or 39 percent in Law School polling.  But the new survey shows Walker back in the low 40’s.   Nothing to shout about, but progress in what most observers see as a long, hard slog back to more solid political ground. Continue reading “Finally, a Little Good News for Governor Walker”

Here’s What We Don’t Know About Election Day

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By now, we’ve seen the ads.  We’ve heard the talking points. We have at least some idea of which policy positions Scott Walker and Mary Burke favor or oppose.  But with only hours remaining before the votes are counted, there is still plenty we don’t know about the 2014 gubernatorial election in Wisconsin.

Some of it has been hashed over pretty thoroughly.  Turnout, for instance.  Simply put, the Burke campaign needs less-likely Democratic voters to go to the polls in numbers that more closely resemble a presidential election, or at the very least, the 2012 recall election for governor.  Three million people in Wisconsin voted in the November 2012 presidential contest.  Two-point-five million voted in the June recall election.  If turnout looks more like the governor’s race of 2010, when 2.1 million people went to the polls, the Burke campaign will face enormous odds, given historically strong turnout by Republican voters in the state.  But turnout is hardly the only “great unknown” Tuesday.  Here are a handful of others to consider.

1) Do Democrats return to the fold?  Exit polling data from the June 2012 recall election suggests a number of Democrats voted for Governor Walker because they didn’t agree with the recall. Even AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told me recently that some of his members supported Walker in 2012 because of their discomfort with the recall.  And Trumka is hardly a fan of the governor.  Walker acknowledges that those voters exist.  The question is will they stick with him in this election, or return to their Democratic-voting ways.  Continue reading “Here’s What We Don’t Know About Election Day”

Prox and the Poll

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Senator ProxmireHe died more than nine years ago, but the spirit of the late U.S. Senator William Proxmire lives on in Wisconsin. The proof can be found in the latest Marquette Law School Poll, which suggests that someone like Proxmire, a political maverick if there ever was one, might play well in Wisconsin today. More on that in a moment, but first a couple of thoughts on what this latest survey tells us.

Today’s Marquette Law School Poll tends to complicate the national narrative about Wisconsin: that we’re a hyper-polarized state with voters split almost equally between Republican red and Democratic blue. While voting patterns certainly seem to support that claim, the poll results point to an electorate with a considerably more nuanced view of the world, replete with mixed messages that are sure to cause a lot of head-scratching among political pundits. Case in point: the poll finds that 54 percent of voters feel the state is moving in the right direction, which for the last three-and-a-half years, has been a distinctly conservative one. But on a number of key issues, Wisconsin voters agree with positions favored by Democrats. They support a hike in the minimum wage and accepting federal dollars to expand Medicaid. They don’t like outsourcing. They think tax cuts favor the wealthy. They want to know more about whose deep pockets are funding political campaigns. Past polls have also shown majority support for repealing the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

Continue reading “Prox and the Poll”

The Rest of the Story

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The story will be the horse race. It always is. Governor Walker and likely Democratic challenger Mary Burke are in a dead heat.  But there are a couple of interesting subplots in the latest numbers from the Marquette Law School Poll.

Like many Democratic candidates, Burke fares especially well with younger voters, and with those who are single (never married, widowed, or divorced).  Governor Walker, the Republican, scores best with those who are middle-age and married.  This is essentially the same voter behavior we saw in the 2012 presidential election.  But in a non-presidential year, the question for Burke will be whether those in the demographics who like her most will show up at the polls.

While the Burke campaign is undoubtedly pleased that the race appears close, one of the poll’s results may be cause for concern for her — 49 per cent of voters say they still don’t know enough about Burke to have an opinion of her.  That spells opportunity for the Walker campaign, which has unleashed a series of ads recently, rushing to define Burke before she defines herself. Continue reading “The Rest of the Story”

Poll Results Show Strengths and Weaknesses for Walker and Burke

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A couple of quick observations about the newest Marquette Law School Poll, released Wednesday. It contains good news for Republican Governor Scott Walker, who leads his likely Democratic challenger Mary Burke 48 to 41 percent among those surveyed. Walker should also be heartened by the results of the familiar and important “right direction/wrong track” question. Fifty-four  percent of respondents say Wisconsin is headed in the right direction. Only 42 per cent say we’re on the wrong track. There is also majority support for his recently signed $541 million property and income tax cut.

But the poll reveals several areas of concern for the governor. He remains below 50 percent in job approval and in a head-to-head matchup with Burke. Seventy-three percent of those surveyed say a failure to keep his 250,000 new jobs promise would be “very important” or “somewhat important” in deciding how they would vote. The governor’s opposition to a minimum wage hike and repealing the state’s same sex marriage ban puts him at odds with public sentiment in the poll, and the recently released John Doe documents aren’t helpful. But perhaps the most worrisome result for the Walker campaign is found in question number 32. When asked if Walker “cares about people like me,” 51 percent say he doesn’t. Forty-three percent say he does. Mary Burke fares better on the question. Thirty-six percent say Burke “cares about people like me.” Twenty-nine percent say she doesn’t. But 34 percent say they don’t know, demonstrating that many people still haven’t formed an opinion of Burke. It’s early, but the “empathy” or “compassion” question will be one to watch as the campaign moves into high gear.

 

 

 

 

 

The Promise Revisited

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Last July, I wrote a post for the Marquette Law School Faculty Blog that was premised on The Promise. The one Scott Walker made when he ran for governor four years ago. Walker pledged that at least 250,000 jobs would be created in Wisconsin during his first term in office. The thrust of the blog post was to look at whether that promise could come back to haunt the Governor in a reelection campaign. You can find my earlier thoughts here.

We won’t know for sure what role The Promise will have played in this year’s race until Election Day, but there are early indications that it may not be the all-powerful political weapon Democrats had hoped for.

That’s not to say job creation isn’t a potential problem for the governor. Wisconsin, according to the most reliable jobs numbers, has lagged behind the national average during Walker’s tenure. The latest tally of “jobs added” shows Wisconsin ranks 37th in private-sector jobs created. With roughly a year left in office, the governor is only 42 percent of the way to his promise of 250,000. Continue reading “The Promise Revisited”

Pot, Politics, and the New Center

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The headlines about the newest Marquette Law School Poll are focusing on the 2014 race for governor and that’s certainly no surprise. Let’s be honest. For the news media (I’m still a member), the horserace is catnip. We can’t resist. But there’s another question in the Poll that may generate—forgive me—some buzz of its own. “Do you think the use of marijuana should be made legal, or not?” Of the 400 people who responded, 50 per cent said yes, marijuana should be legal. Forty-five per cent said it should not. (See question 33 of the poll results here.)

Surprising? Perhaps. But why is it significant? To be sure, marijuana will not be a major issue in next year’s elections in Wisconsin. We’re not about to become the next Colorado or Washington, where in statewide referenda voters made recreational pot use legal. We’re also not about to join the list of 20 states that permit marijuana for medical use, although two Democratic state lawmakers, Jon Erpenbach and Chris Taylor, are proposing we do just that. Erpenbach and Taylor say the public is ahead of the politicians on this one, and the Marquette Law School Poll suggests they may be right. Furthermore, a recent Gallup Poll found even stronger support for legalizing marijuana. For the first time ever, a clear majority of Americans, 58 percent, favored legalization. Continue reading “Pot, Politics, and the New Center”

Murder and Milwaukee

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Sunday on my statewide television show UpFront, I asked Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn a simple question. Given the recent rash of shootings and homicides in Milwaukee, what would he say to out-state residents who might be wondering whether the city is safe?

“As long as they’re not coming here to engage in crime,” the Chief responded, “they’re safe.” Flynn said Milwaukee has one of the safest big-city downtowns in the country, but it also has a well-armed criminal community. According to the chief, 85 percent of Milwaukee’s victims and 95 percent of its offenders in gun-related cases have significant criminal records.

To address the spike in violent crime, Flynn and Mayor Tom Barrett asked the state to kick-in $500,000 for additional police overtime. But their suggestion didn’t get a warm reception from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. In an interview with WisconsinEye’s Steve Walters, Vos criticized how city officials were running the department, and said the strategy to combat violence in Milwaukee isn’t working.

Nearly two dozen shootings in a week. Seven gun-related murders in seven days. The recent events have led to a fierce public debate. Was Milwaukee well on its way to becoming Detroit? Had police strategies to combat violent crime failed? Or was Milwaukee no different from many other big cities which have experienced similar spikes in crime? Continue reading “Murder and Milwaukee”

The Promise

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The promise.  It’s long been a staple of political campaigns and it’s easy to understand why.  Candidates need to find a way to connect with voters, to cut through the messaging clutter, and nothing does the trick quite like a simple, direct “this is what I’m going to do” statement.  The promise, after all, is about much more than words.  It reflects a candidate’s vision and confidence.  I mean, who wants to vote for someone who’s not-so-sure what the future holds?  We want our candidates to be bold, decisive, and optimistic.

There’s just one danger.  What if a candidate gets elected and fails to deliver on a promise or falls short of it?  Is a broken promise fatal or do voters today see the promise as a different animal: more a statement of goals and aspirations rather than a contract with (as we say in television) no “outs”?

They’re questions worth asking, because in Wisconsin’s 2014 race for governor, a promise will almost certainly be front and center.  It’s the one Governor Scott Walker made in February of 2010, when he said Wisconsin would create 250,000 new private sector jobs in his first term in office (fewer Wisconsinites are likely to remember Democratic candidate Tom Barrett’s goal of creating 180,000 new jobs).  Then-candidate Walker based his pledge on numbers that had been achieved by former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson in his first four years, and he repeated it again and again to voters and media around the state.  When Walker appeared on my “UpFront” television show in late February, I asked him, “Is this a campaign promise?  Something you want to be held to?” Walker didn’t hesitate. “Absolutely,” he replied.  “To me, 250,000 is a minimum.  Just a base.” Continue reading “The Promise”

Milwaukee: The $5,000 House and Other Thoughts

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I was having lunch the other day with someone who works in city government, and we were talking about the serious foreclosure problem in Milwaukee. He was lamenting the fact that in some of the poorest sections of the city, the housing market is fundamentally broken. Homes, now owned by the city, can be purchased for as little as $5,000 and yet they still aren’t selling. If you want some sobering evidence of the magnitude of the nation’s housing market collapse and the impact of the Great Recession, check out the listings. They’re stunning, really.

Mayor Tom Barrett estimates the foreclosure crisis has cost Milwaukee $5 billion dollars in assessed value. The city has tried to get a handle on the problem, but it persists, eating away at once-stable neighborhoods. In 2008, the mayor launched the Milwaukee Foreclosure Partnership Initiative, which tries to prevent foreclosures and stabilize neighborhoods.  There’s a branch of city government that directly addresses housing issues. And last week, the mayor announced he would be committing another $2.3 million to address the foreclosure problem. As part of that initiative, scores of empty homes will be torn down because they’re a blight on city neighborhoods. As a longtime Milwaukee resident, I’d be less than honest if I didn’t say the specter of Detroit came to mind when I heard the news.

But the next Detroit is hardly the image thousands of newcomers have of my hometown. After losing 20 per cent of its population from 1960-2000, Milwaukee is growing again. It’s not a population explosion, but it’s growth. Recent census numbers show that from 2010 to 2012, the city added 4,000 residents. What’s most interesting is who’s choosing to live in Milwaukee. Reporting by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (part of a collaboration with Marquette Law School) found that in the last decade, there has been a migration of young people to the city. Many are college graduates. They live downtown, on the city’s east side, and in “hot” neighborhoods like the Third Ward, Walker’s Point, Bay View, Brewers’ Hill and Washington Heights. Their presence has brought a new energy and economic vitality to parts of Milwaukee, with restaurants and shops racing to meet the demands of younger consumers. These newcomers are helping fuel a change in Milwaukee’s risk-averse entrepreneurial culture, and have created a dynamic arts and entertainment scene. Their arrival is also welcome news to established Fortune 500 companies like Northwestern Mutual, which is planning a new skyscraper for its downtown campus, along with hundreds of news jobs. Continue reading “Milwaukee: The $5,000 House and Other Thoughts”

That’s the Way It Was — and Is

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When I was studying journalism at UW-Madison, we would sometimes end our day at Vilas Hall by grabbing a cold one at a nearby tavern on University Avenue. Bob and Gene’s is no longer there, but a particular memory remains. One of the television sets at the bar was tuned each night to the CBS Evening News, and when anchorman Walter Cronkite came on the air, the place got quiet and remained that way until Cronkite’s signature standoff: “and that’s the way it is.” On the heels of Watergate and a long war that threatened to tear the nation apart, there was a sense that we had witnessed history.

We witnessed history again in Wisconsin last year, and this time it threatened to tear the state apart. One year ago—June 5—Wisconsin went to the polls in the recall election for Governor. The protests of 2011 had been replaced by a political movement aimed at ousting Governor Scott Walker from office. It was an election that divided not just Republicans and Democrats, but friends and families, some of whom simply stopped talking about politics rather than run the risk of a nasty argument. Bitter and contentious, there was little middle ground. In the waning days of the race between Governor Scott Walker and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (a rematch of 2010), the Law School found itself in the middle of the fray. We released our final Marquette Law School Poll of the election cycle, showing Governor Walker leading by seven points (ultimately, his margin of victory). The Law School also played host to the final debate of the campaign. As I moderated the event, I was struck not only by the sharpness of the exchanges between Barrett and Walker, but how the evening had a certain rhythm to it, each candidate giving as good as he got. The two men knew each other well. They had done this several times before, and their familiarity along with their fundamentally different visions for the state produced an hour of compelling conversation. But I also remember the overwhelming silence in a packed Eckstein Hall when both Barrett and Walker would briefly pause to collect their thoughts. Intense doesn’t begin to describe it.

When Election Day was over, Scott Walker had won. Again. And life went on in Wisconsin. So what has happened in the year since the historic recall? In some ways, the debate seems remarkably familiar. We’re still arguing over jobs numbers and the performance of the state’s economy. According to our latest Law School poll, the Governor’s job approval rating remains about the same, slightly more positive than negative. But one fact is beyond dispute: Wisconsin continues to undergo a rapid and fundamental transformation, one that could change its future course for not only years, but decades. With Republicans in control in Madison, the state is quickly moving away from its progressive past, plotting a future built on a philosophy of lower taxes, less government assistance, fewer regulations, and more school choice. Election laws are also likely to change in ways that could benefit Republican candidates. For now, Democrats can do little but watch and wait for 2014, the next major election cycle. And yet, in many respects, Wisconsin is still a purple state, neither red nor blue, as evidenced by the victories of Democrats Barack Obama and Tammy Baldwin in November.

About 18 months ago, Businessweek referred to us as the “republic of political unhappiness.” We may not be in the primal scream stage anymore. But our deep divisions remain, and it’s still probably not a good idea to talk politics at a family picnic. That’s the way it is in Wisconsin, one year after the recall.