In what has already developed into a heated race, voters will decide in November whether Gov. Scott Walker wins his third gubernatorial election in five years.
Walker — the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall election — is seeking a second term but faces likely Democratic nominee Mary Burke, the former Trek Bicycle executive and state commerce secretary.
The biggest issues in the election will be the economy and the state budget, said University of Wisconsin political science professor Barry Burden.
“At the top of the list is jobs and close behind is the budget,” Burden said. “Those two issues are probably going to dominate all the others. … The record of the two people, their office, their private lives, etc. will likely come into play, as well. But in the end, I think the campaign and voters are going to come back to jobs and the budget.”
The latest Marquette University Law School poll, scheduled for release July 23, was unavailable at press time.
But Marquette’s May 15-18 poll found Burke and Walker tied at 46 percent among registered voters, although Walker had a 48 percent to 45 percent lead among likely voters. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Marquette professor Charles Franklin, the poll director, had called those results a “significant tightening of the race,” as the March poll found Walker leading Burke 48 percent to 41 percent.
Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, said recent years have seen increased polarization in the state — and this election season will be no different.
“You can even get together with a group of friends sometimes, but if the conversation turns to politics, people just get really angry with each other, and that’s something new in Wisconsin,” Heck said. “I think a lot of people, certainly me, are uncomfortable with it.”
The race, Heck added, will be a “very bitter election [and] the second most expensive election in Wisconsin history.” The most expensive race in the state’s history was the 2012 recall election that Walker prevailed in, partly because state campaign finance law loosens normal limits for incumbents facing a recall, he said.
The latest campaign finance numbers showed Walker outraised Burke in the first half of 2014 by about double. Walker raised $8.3 million in the first half of the year, while Burke raised $3.6 million, according to numbers the campaigns shared prior to filings with the state elections agency.
Already, both campaigns are battling on the air, with each side releasing ads mostly focused on job creation and economic issues. A recent Walker ad hit Burke on a $12.5 million loan she oversaw as commerce secretary that has so far led to no jobs, while Burke released an ad later in the day declaring Wisconsinites “deserve a governor who puts you first.”
Walker then slammed Burke for Trek Bicycle “sending jobs overseas that could have been done in Wisconsin.”
Burke’s brother, the current Trek president, said in a statement the ad made “false claims for political gains” and said he was in charge of any manufacturing changes. Burke, meanwhile, went up with her own ad two days later calling Walker’s ad an “outrageous attack on a great Wisconsin company.”
“It’ll be a bloody, nasty, expensive, polarizing election,” Heck said. “Unfortunately, that’s becoming the norm in Wisconsin.”