A new Marquette Law School poll released July 23 shows a dead heat in the race for Wisconsin governor, with Scott Walker trailing challenger Mary Burke 46 to 47 percent among likely voters, while among registered voters, Walker maintains a one-point lead.
The poll, which mirrors the results of a similar poll in May, comes amid an increasingly heated campaign and a volley of negative ads.
This week, the Walker campaign attacked Burke in a $175,000 ad buy for making millions as an executive at the business her father founded, the Trek Bicycle Company, while that company outsourced jobs to China to manufacture bicycle parts.
"Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your fortune grow?” a woman reads, flipping through a storybook as a cute little girl leans on her arm. “By making millions of dollars . . . Sending jobs overseas that could have been done in Wisconsin . . . To countries where women and children might work up to 12 hours a day, earning only two dollars an hour."
Burke and her brother, John Burke, immediately shot back, defending Trek as the largest manufacturer of bicycles in the United States, and an employer of 1,000 Wisconsin workers.
(The Wisconsin Republican Party has filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board against John Burke for taking out a full-page ad defending Trek, calling it illegal campaign coordination with his sister.)
Walker’s swift-boat attack on Burke is a shrewd political strategy, since it not only diminishes Burke’s greatest strength—her experience helping to run a successful Wisconsin business that employs many local workers—it also muddies the waters in the area of Walker’s greatest weakness: his abysmal record on his signature promise to create 250,000 new jobs in Wisconsin.
Walker's attack followed months of bad news about the agency he created, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, including revelations that the group gave 60 percent of its funds to Walker donors, failed to adequately track results, and that its staff blew thousands of taxpayer dollars on Badger tickets and iTunes gift cards.
All in all, as my colleague Mary Bottari has reported, the WEDC oversaw the creation of, at best, 5,800 jobs. During the same period, Wisconsin lost some 13,000 jobs.
Overall, Wisconsin has trailed the nation and the region in job creation under Walker. A new report says the state lost jobs for a second straight month in June.
Last week’s news about WEDC gifts to companies that outsourced jobs prompted a scathing editorial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which once endorsed Walker.
"We've called for the WEDC to do a better job of being, in the governor's own words, 'good steward of the taxpayer' dollars,' and for greater transparency," the newspaper's editorial board wrote. "After a recently published report, we have another item for WEDC's to-do list. Once again, it's an item that we thought would be generally understood: Don't take Wisconsin money, then send Wisconsin jobs overseas."
Walker's job creation agency does not seem to have received the message.
A WEDC spokesman told WKOW, "If a company makes a business decision to move some of its jobs out of the state -- despite our best efforts -- we will continue to work with that company to ensure that as many jobs as possible remain in Wisconsin."
More than 116 employees of Plexaus, which closed a plant in Neenah and moved jobs to Mexico, applied for and received Trade Adjustment Assistance -- federal aid to workers whose jobs are outsourced.
The 15 to 20 Trek Bicycle employees whose jobs making lugs and mountain bike frames were moved from Waterloo to China in 2013 also got Trade Adjustment Assistance. But those layoffs did not involve any tax credit assistance from the state of Wisconsin.
Among the interesting twists in the outsourcing war in the Wisconsin governor’s race:
The Wall Street Journal weighed in, scolding Walker for "playing the 'Benedict Arnold CEO' card . . . to fan populist furies."
State Republicans are also operating a website that describes Burke as a "one percenter," the Wall Street Journal points out.
Today, Walker's allies pushed their attack on Burke from the left even further.
As Dan Bice reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, state Republicans called attention to Senator Tammy Baldwin's tweets calling for a "#FairShot to our workers in Wisconsin. Companies that ship jobs overseas shouldn't get tax breaks."
Baldwin also had tweeted: "When we #BringJobsHome, we build a strong #MadeinWI economy that exports American products, not American jobs."
Joe Fadness, executive director of the state Republican Party, told the Journal Sentinel: "In light of the recent discussion on outsourcing, even Senator Tammy Baldwin is taking issue with the kind of overseas jobs shipping that made Mary Burke millions, again pitting her against the base of her party."
But Baldwin’s tweets had nothing to do with Burke, her spokesman John Kraus explained to The Progressive.
Walker and the state GOP seem to be "oblivious," Kraus said, to the fact that they are promoting hashtags for the Senate Democrats' #fairshot campaign to #bringjobshome.
"It seems to me that the big news is that Walker and the Wisconsin GOP support passage of the Bring the Jobs Home Act," Kraus said.
"This week’s vote in the U.S. Senate provides an opportunity for Governor Walker to man up, walk the walk, and prove to everyone that he is capable of more than simply playing politics and attacking a Wisconsin business that has done something he has failed to do -- create jobs in our state," Kraus added.
"We welcome the governor’s support for legislation advanced by Senate Democrats," Kraus said, "and we look forward to him using his national celebrity to call on Senate Republicans to end their obstruction."