Friday, September 18, 2009

No, Scott Walker Doesn't Have a Prayer in Milwaukee

It will likely come as little surprise that Aaron Rodriguez has yet another post praising Scott Walker. There's a lot of material to work with, but we're going to focus on one section in particular, largely because it seems to resonate with other Walker acolytes.

Here's Rodriguez on what he calls Walker's "political viability":
First and most interestingly, Walker has demonstrated a certain proficiency at winning elections. In the world of politics, Walker has a perfect, undefeated record at winning election contests.
Right off the bat, Rodriguez make a demonstrably false statement. Walker may have a very good track record when it comes to winning elections, but he does not have a perfect one. He did, after all, lose the GOP Gubernatorial primary in 2006. Walker campaigned for 14 months before packing his tent up in 2006. This isn't something that can so easily dismissed.
After securing a State Assembly seat in 1993, Walker has won every successive re-election bid until he sought the office of Milwaukee County Executive. In 2002, Scott Walker was the first Republican ever to be elected to Milwaukee County Executive. And after acquiring the seat of County Executive, Walker has won all three [sic. -- it was only twice] re-election bids in Milwaukee. Walker's political dominance in Milwaukee illustrates an effective salesmanship and an expert knowledge at waging successful campaigns.
This too needs some mopping up.

Rodriguez seems to be really impressed that Walker won his elections for Count Executive, and while it's an impressive feat to be sure, it certainly is not the stepping stone to the Governor's mansion Rodriguez makes it sound like it is. So far as we've been able to find, no one has ever made the leap from county executive -- of any county -- to governor in Wisconsin.

Secondly nearly all of Walker's elections for County Exec have been under circumstances that were advantageous to him. In 2002 Walker won a special election following the recall of the prior County Exec who got caught up in the pension scandal, circumstances that are usually a boon to the opposition party or change agent. In 2004, with the pension scandal still fresh in voters' memories, Walker was able to take advantage of the benefits of incumbency without having to carry much of the baggage of an office-holder who has served a full term. In 2008 his opponent was Lena Taylor whose most glaring political liability is the fact that she's Lena Taylor.

So Walker has been the recipient of some tremendous good fortune when it comes to being County Exec.

None of this should be held against Walker. Knowing when to pounce is often just as difficult as knowing how to pounce. Walker saw an opportunity in 2002 and seized it. Good for him, but the challenge he gets next year will likely be closer to the challenge he faced when he ran against Mark Green than when he faced off against Taylor.

Next, there are also considerable institutional differences in running for County Exec and running of governor. The first is that County Exec is a nonpartisan office. Pratically speaking, candidates may (and do) run as essentially a Dem or a Republican, but there's no (D) or (R) next to the candidates names on the ballot and that changes the way people vote and how campaigns are waged.

The second is that Milwaukee County Execs are elected in the spring, when voter turnout is significantly lower than during major elections in the fall. When Walker beat Taylor last April, less than 167,000 people voted. Seven months later, roughly 477,000 voters went to the polls -- and this bleeds into Rodriguez's next point.
Secondly, Walker has proven to be popular in Milwaukee County, which is no small feat for a conservative politician.


Politically speaking, Milwaukee and Madison are democrat havens. With a collective population of 813,000, these cities tend to pack a pungent one-two punch for liberal candidates. Walker's situation, however, is somewhat anomalous. Walker's popularity in Milwaukee means at least two things. It means he is a more viable GOP candidate than say Mark Neumann. And second, it means that Democrat contenders will lose the advantage of Milwaukee County as a political springboard for their election bid. The one exception to this rule is possibly Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, if he were to run for governor.
I don't know how else to read this other than Rodriguez suggesting that Walker will either carry or at least contend for Milwaukee County.

Rodriguez seems to base this simply on the fact that Walker's been elected County Exec several times, but this is just part of the picture. Very frequently a group of people will elect someone to one office, but not another -- just ask Al Gore how Tennessee voted in 2000. Plus, as we noted above, Walker will be running under different circumstances in Milwaukee next fall. He'll have an (R) next to his name and be running against someone with (D) next to theirs. That will dramatically change Walker's popularity in Milwaukee county.

Let's put it this way: Barack Obama won 316,916 votes just in Milwaukee county in 2008. John McCain got 147,573. Obviously, we won't be looking at these types of numbers next fall, but it does serve as a gauge as to how Milwaukee county is currently composed. The question then becomes: is Scott Walker popular enough to significantly close a 170,000 vote disparity?

Doubtfully. In 2008, Walker got 98,039 people to vote for him, but in 2004 he got 136,099. That's a significant drop-off, even if it isn't completely attributable to waning popularity, and is a trend that doesn't bode well for Walker's attempt to negate the advantage Democrats have in Milwaukee.

Now here's the fun part: none of this matters. Walker needs voters "outstate." A conservative Republican can win a statewide election by getting clobbered in Dane and Milwaukee counties if he still manages to connect with the 75% of voters who don't live in those two counties. That's not going to happen by, say, running around Stevens Point screaming "They love me in Milwaukee!" That's how one loses votes up here in the sticks.

We're pretty confident that the boys down at Walker Headquarters were tickled pink by the sentiment of yet another one of Rodriguez's sloppy wet kisses to their candidate, even though "viable in Milwaukee" isn't exactly staying on message; but we also have this quaint little visual of a Walker staffer shaking his computer monitor with both hands while huffing through gritting teeth "Ixnay ethay Ilwaukeemay uffstay!!!" as he read Rodriguez's post.

So is Walker "viable" in Milwaukee county? No -- and this will only get worse as Walker seeks to distance himself from Milwaukee. In order to appeal to voters outstate Walker will inevitably have to take positions that screw Milwaukee and alienate the voters back home, thus making him even less viable.

Milwaukee's a lost cause for Walker, and anyone who tells him otherwise is fooling himself.

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