MADISON, Wis. – As Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his Democratic challenger Mary Burke enter the final week of one of the closest governor’s races in the country, both campaigns are trying to find a way to rile up their bases without turning off the few undecided voters in the state. That means a 10-day statewide bus tour for Walker, a visit from President Obama for Burke, and massive get-out-the-vote efforts for both candidates.
As Walker travels the state in his “Continuing Wisconsin’s Comeback” bus, making some half dozen stops a day, Burke’s campaign is preparing for a visit from Obama on Tuesday to energize voters in the Democratic stronghold of Milwaukee. The president’s appearance comes on the heels of high-profile events with Michelle Obama and former President Bill Clinton.
Meanwhile, both candidates remain focused on getting as many of their supporters to the polls as possible. Polling has shown them essentially tied for six months, with Burke and Walker both at 47% last week — which means “every vote counts” is more than another election-season cliché. Marquette University Law School will release one more poll this Wednesday.
Turnout among the most faithful party voters will be essential for a Burke victory. With midterm elections looking grim for Democrats, Obama’s appearance in Milwaukee, the biggest and most diverse city, will take place in a ward he carried in 2012 with 99% of the vote.
Walker entered this campaign as a potential 2016 contender, but the political momentum he gained after he dismantled public sector union rights in 2011 and survived a 2012 recall attempt has waned. Instead, he has struggled to maintain even a small lead against Burke.
Wisconsin voters are also still confused about the state of a new voter ID law which Walker signed; the Supreme Court has put the law on hold until after the election, but that confusion could hurt turnout among traditionally Democratic voters.
Burke, a former commerce secretary and executive at Trek Bicycle who currently serves on the Madison School Board, has proven to be a tough opponent, attacking Walker for failing in his 2010 promise to create 250,000 private sector jobs.
Walker has also had to deal with anger over his position on the minimum wage. A recent study found that some 700,000 workers in Wisconsin are earning poverty-level wages. The governor has said he wants to create jobs that pay more than the minimum wage, but he also recently said that the minimum wage doesn’t serve a purpose.
Wisconsin Jobs Now, an advocacy group, announced Monday that it was filing a lawsuit against Walker and a top administration official over a recent refusal to consider raising the state’s minimum wage from $7.25. The group alleges that the director of the state’s Department of Workforce Development rejected more than 100 wage-related complaints without fully reviewing them. Under Wisconsin law, the state must investigate all complaints that a worker is not being paid enough to earn a living wage. When the group requested documents related to the decision, the department produced a study from the state restaurant industry and one letter from a legislator.
Walker dismissed the lawsuit as a “raw, cheap political stunt” orchestrated by out of state interests. “If they were serious about that, they would have done it six months or a year ago,” he said at a small business where he touted his efforts to create manufacturing jobs.
Burke spent Monday in rural Western Wisconsin touring family farms before meeting with students in Madison.
While the Burke campaign sets the stage for Obama’s appearance on Tuesday afternoon, Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch will spend the day wooing women. Walker’s campaign took serious criticism earlier this month when it ran a misleading ad about his position on abortion. While the ad strongly implied that Walker believed reproductive decisions should be between a woman and her doctor, Walker has opposed abortion even in the case of rape or incest.
Walker also said Monday that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the head of the Republican Governor’s Association (RGA), would join him on the trail later this week, although details of that appearance have not been announced.
At one campaign stop Monday night, Walker tried to push back against speculation that he and Christie are at odds over the amount of help the RGA has given Walker’s campaign. Walker said this weekend that he could use more financial help, but on Monday, he said, ““Let me be clear: When I complain about the national groups that come in, I by no means am complaining about the RGA.”