Wisconsin has garnered a reputation as a politically schizophrenic state due to the outcomes of it's last few election cycles. Many have wondered how a state that reelected controversial GOP Governor Scott Walker in the June 2012 recall election only to elect the nation's first lesbian US Senator, Democrat Tammy Baldwin just a few months later in November 2012. With the 2014 midterm election on the horizon, the pundit class is once again searching for horse races to watch in battleground states and Wisconsin's fickle electorate is guaranteed to provide them an exciting show.
Incumbent Governor Scott Walker and his cohort in the Wisconsin Republican Party have a lot going for them. The Wisconsin GOP is well represented on the national stage, not only with Walker and his 2016 Presidential Candidate Hopeful status but also by US Representative Paul Ryan, failed 2012 vice president candidate and a likely successor to John Boehner as head of Republicans in the House. There is also Reince Priebus, current chairman of the Republican National Committee. Having the current head of the GOP hailing from their state gives Wisconsin GOP candidates a tremendous advantage in regards to garnering out-of-state donations.
It's not all roses and sunshine for the Wisconsin GOP, however. Walker is expected to fall short of his promise to create 250,000 jobs, a cornerstone of his 2010 and recall campaigns. This is in part due to the failure of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (the WEDC), the half-baked Republican public-private replacement for the Wisconsin Department of Commerce rammed through the state house in January of 2011. It is reported that the WEDC has lost track of roughly $50 million in loans to businesses. The biggest problem for the Wisconsin GOP and Scott Walker, however, comes in the form of a potentially strong Democratic gubernatorial challenger named Mary Burke.
Mary Burke, former Secretary of Commerce under former Governor Jim Doyle and executive at Trek Bicycle Corporation, is putting together a campaign that could put up real fight against Scott Walker, unlike the anemic attempts of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in 2010 and in the 2012 recall election. She has hired on veterans of Obama's 2008 presidential election and Tammy Baldwin's historic 2012 Senate race including the head of Obama's 2008 direct mail campaign Pete Giangreco and Baldwin pollster Diane Feldman. Her main disadvantage is in name recognition, a perennial problem for first-time candidates.
Another problem for Mary Burke and Wisconsin Democrats is, quite frankly, the Wisconsin Democratic Party. In 2012 the Wisconsin Democratic Party could not even muster up enough candidates to run one in every State Assembly seat, practically giving the Wisconsin GOP control of the Assembly. The state party seeks to rectify this with it's"Red to Blue Badgers" initiative, a plan to recruit more candidates in currently red districts. This is a step in the right direction but it will take more than just having a candidate in each contest to turn this around for them. They will need to provide training to a new generation of progressive bloggers and activists if they hope to harness the energy of the throngs of dissatisfied Wisconsin citizens who took to the streets in February of 2011.
The Wisconsin Democrats are also at a steep disadvantage when it comes to fundraising.The Walker campaign brought in $5.1 million in the last half of 2013 (over half of which coming from out of state), dwarfing the Burke campaign's $1.8 million. Walker is also leading in the polls 47% to Burke's 41%. As the campaigns get under way and the ads start to fly back and forth, though, these numbers are certain to change one way or the other. In the end nothing is certain about the Wisconsin midterm election other than it is shaping up to be a toss-up race that should spark national interest.