Scott Walker Campaign Readies for Final Stretch

At the end of August, the Marquette University Law School poll -- which has developed an enviable reputation for predicting the behavior of voters in the Badger State -- released results which again show the gubernatorial race in Wisconsin in an absolute statistical dead heat. Democrat candidate Mary Burke is about a percentage point ahead with “likely” voters, and Scott Walker is slightly ahead (by about the same margin) with “registered” voters. Dr. Charles Franklin, director of the poll, points out the remarkable lack of movement: upwards of 45% support Burke, and upwards of 45% support Walker, and it has been so for months.

This is especially remarkable considering the huge amount of money which both sides have already poured into television and radio ads, as well as the vast get-out-the-vote (GOTV) effort being mounted by both sides. Wisconsin is a swing state which in recent years has swung rather violently in both directions. The last presidential election in which Wisconsin voted for a Republican was in 1988. In 2010, the Democrats held every state-wide electoral office save one (the attorney general); they held majorities in both houses of the state legislature; and Wisconsin’s eight federal representatives were divided between five Democrats and three Republicans. But in November of that year, everything turned over. When the dust had settled, the Republicans had taken every statewide office save three (secretary of state, director of public instruction, and one U.S. senator), held majorities in both houses of the state legislature, and five of the federal representatives were now Republicans.

The shocked and enraged Democrats mounted a controversial recall election the next year (the earliest permissible under state law) against the governor, lieutenant governor, and key state senators (the most vulnerable house of the state legislature). Walker won the recall by more votes than he had the general election, becoming the first governor in U.S. history to survive such a recall.

So, one might think, the matter is decided. Walker is the governor, and more popular than before. This would also appear logical if one simply looks at some numbers: at the end of eight years of Democrat rule, in 2010, the state faced a budges deficit of $3.6B; greatly tightened regulations and one of the highest tax regimes in the country (Wisconsin was the fourth-most taxed state) combined to drive businesses from the state and gave pause to anyone rashly considering locating in it; well over 100,000 private sector jobs left a state with a population of just under 5.75 million people; and unemployment was 9.2%, well above the national average. Now, in 2014, the state has a balanced budget. Wisconsin is the only state in the union to have a fully funded public employee pension fund. Taxes have been cut every year since the governor was elected (Wisconsin is now number 10 on the list of most highly taxed states), and Wisconsin has a projected budget surplus of $912M, which is gradually being returned to the taxpayers in more cuts. The state university system tuition has been frozen for the last three years, and much of the regulatory brush has been cleared. Over 100,000 new private sector jobs have been created, and Wisconsin is now rated third in the Midwest in private-sector job creation, rather than near the bottom.

Democrat candidate Mary Burke was the secretary of commerce in the previous administration, and presided over that disastrous economy.

So what is hard to get? Why are the numbers so stubbornly close?