Walker’s in, the left fires first, and the War for Wisconsin is on

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. – That didn’t take long.

Literally minutes after Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch officially announced their re-election campaign Tuesday, a Hillary Clinton front group rolled out its attack machine against the Republican governor and potential 2016 presidential hopeful.

American Bridge, backed by big-money liberal donor George Soros, “welcomed” Walker and his “failed job creation promise to the Wisconsin governor’s race.”

DOWN TO BUSINESS: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch announce their re-election campaigns Tuesday.

The liberal “research and communications organization committed to holding Republicans accountable for their words” by employing liberal spin, made its first sortie an all-out assault on Walker’s jobs record, criticizing the governor’s failure to date to hit his ambitious pledge that the state would create 250,000 jobs by the end of his first term.

Walker’s official campaign launch made one thing very clear: The political war is back on in Wisconsin.

And liberals again are ready to pump in big money and national resources to take down the man who reformed Wisconsin’s public-sector collective bargaining system, among one of the most active public policy reform agendas since the progressives “Fighting” Bob LaFollette.

Walker is fighting back, answering the question Ronald Reagan asked an economically fatigued nation in 1980.

“We’re better off than we were four years ago, but there is more work to be done,” the governor said in his announcement. The tax-cutting governor chose Tax Day to officially jump into the race.

“In the past, April 15 was a day we didn’t have much to look forward to in Wisconsin. But this year, we have hope for the future. This is a new beginning for our state. Wisconsin is back on, and our best days are ahead of us,” Walker said.

In three-plus years, the iconoclastic governor has not presided over a state economy that has created 250,000 jobs. He has, to date, missed his mark.

But the incumbent brings to his re-election bid an impressive resume of accomplishments, including an economy that has added more than 100,000 jobs after the worst recession to Wisconsin and the nation in a generation. With that, Walker can — and does — point to the addition of thousands of new businesses starting up on his watch.

The reason for that business boom, conservatives assert, is Walker and the Republican majority pushing for regulatory and tax reforms that have changed the attitude of business, long burdened with some of the highest tax rates and regulations in the country.

While his opponents have protested his state budget reforms, Walker can lay claim to filling a massive $3.6-billion budget hole that he and his fellow Republicans inherited from the man he replaced, Democrat Gov. Jim Doyle and the ruling Democrats in the state Legislature. Wisconsin lost more than 130,000 jobs in the Great Recession, on Doyle’s watch, and thousands of businesses shut down.

Walker and his supporters have said Wisconsin wasn’t going to dig itself out of the deep economic hole overnight, just as President Obama and his backers have said of the slowly recovering U.S. economy. But to Walker’s vitriol-spewing opponents, there’s a difference between Wisconsin’s plodding recovery and the nation’s oft-anemic growth.

Look for that double-standard to be richly applied by the left in the months ahead.

But it is hard to dispute the roaring return of strong state revenue at the state level. Walker and the Republicans have presided over a budget running $900 million ahead of expectation, and he has signed GOP-led legislation amounting to some $2 billion in tax relief, including $750 million in income tax cuts and $500 million in property tax reductions.

“Since taking office, we made the tough decisions past leaders chose to ignore, and they are paying off for the people of Wisconsin,” Walker said in his campaign announcement.

But the left, which paints Walker’s signature Act 10 as gutting Wisconsin’s government collective-bargaining system, plans to put a lot of skin in this game.

Michael Podhorzer, political director of the AFL-CIO, in February said the nation’s labor unions look to spend at least $300 million going after Republicans in this fall’s elections.

Much of that spending is expected to be dropped on four industrial battlegrounds — Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, traditional union strongholds. Big labor also wants Florida.

Of greater interest, perhaps, are states such as Wisconsin, which features a very viable and, to the left, threatening presidential candidate in Walker.

“It’s about survival,” Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and chairman of the AFL-CIO’s political committee, told the New York Times.

“What’s happened didn’t just hurt public-sector unions, it hurt the entire labor movement,” Saunders said of Walker’s law that rolled back the power of public-sector unions in Wisconsin.

But Walker and his lieutenant governor are battle-tested. They survived a furious recall challenge in 2012, led by big labor and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, with a lot of national money in the mix.

Walker’s main challenger is Madison millionaire liberal Mary Burke, basically anointed by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. Burke, a former Trek Bicycle executive, secretary of commerce under Doyle and a member of the ultra-liberal Madison Metropolitan School Board, has plenty of campaign vulnerabilities. Her biggest problem now is that relatively few voters know who she is.

Wisconsin is well-acquainted with Walker. Voters, for the most part, either love him or hate him.

The latest Marquette University Law School poll showed Walker’s favorability rating remained at 49 percent, and he was seen as unfavorable by 47 percent of respondents.

Not so much for Burke, who was viewed favorably by 19 percent and unfavorably by 22 percent of the poll’s respondents. The majority of those polled have little or no idea who the Democrat candidate is.

Burke was running 7 percentage points behind Walker in the Marquette poll, conducted in March. The poll of 801 Wisconsin registered voters was conducted by cell phone and landline March 20-23, and it had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.

Burke lags farther behind in a recent St. Norbert College poll, which found Walker up 55 percent to Burke’s 40 percent. The poll, of 400 Wisconsin residents, had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.

John McAdams, political science professor at Marquette University, said Burke needs to get known fast or she could face an exodus of money.

“That was the complaint from Barrett’s people, that the national people weren’t backing him,” McAdams said of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who ran unsuccessfully against Walker in the recall campaign. “What they were doing was looking at their internal polls and the public polls and saying, ‘This is not a good use of our money.’”

You can count on Walker’s backers introducing Burke and her political record to Wisconsin voters in the coming months, and she will be connected to Doyle’s troubles.

“Four years ago, the debate in Madison revolved around the size of tax increases, but now we’re discussing tax cuts and government reform,” said Brad Courtney, chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, in a statement Tuesday. “We’ve come a long way, but we still have so much more to do.”

Contact M.D. Kittle at mkittle@watchdog.org

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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