Tightening Race in Wisconsin Could Shape Walker's Presidential Aspirations

Walker outperformed his 2014 opponent in a Democrat-leaning polling firm’s survey of Wisconsin registered voters conducted April 17-20. Public Policy Polling gave the Republican a 3-point lead over Democrat Burke, though the margin of error in that poll was an equally tight +/- 2.9 percent.

Walker did enjoy slightly more breathing room against Burke in a late-March nonpartisan Marquette University poll of registered voters, with the governor holding a 48 percent to 41 percent edge over his challenger.

The Real Clear Politics April 14  to May 18 average of polls on the Wisconsin governor’s race gives Walker a 2-point advantage over Burke, making the race a toss-up.

Walker’s lead over Burke was padded somewhat by a March 23 to April 3 survey of likely voters conducted by Wisconsin Public Radio and St. Norbert College, a small private university located in De Pere, Wis.

The WPR/St. Norbert poll gave Walker a 16-point lead over Burke. WPR/St. Norbert’s polling effort is considered by various Badger State pundits and polling experts to be an outlier, however. Pull that particular survey from the mix and a much tighter advantage for Walker results, one well within most polls’ statistical margin of error.

In seeking to define the Democratic challenger before she does gain wide in-state recognition, something she lacks at present, the Walker campaign as well as the Republican National Committee have attempted to paint Burke in less-than-glowing terms.

“Mary Burke’s a weak candidate who has failed to gain traction. She’s waffled on the issues, refuses to tell voters where she stands. She also has problems with her own base. Add those together and it’s not a recipe for success against a strong candidate like Walker,” says RNC spokesman Raffi Williams.

Calls and emails to the Democratic Party of Wisconsin for a response to the RNC’s observations about Burke were not returned.

“Wisconsin voters face a clear choice in this election between two very different approaches,” Burke campaign spokesman Joe Zepecki told the Wisconsin State Journal  after the latest poll by Marquette showed her gaining ground. “It is clear that voters recognize that Walker’s top down, trickle down approach that puts big corporations and special interests ahead of hard-working Wisconsinites isn’t working.”

Burke and her campaign have consistently fired back against Walker, including in a February 2014 Journal Sentinel article in which the Democrat called him a “career politician” willing to say anything to shift focus off the actual issues affecting the state.

Discounting a single outlier poll, the Walker-Burke gubernatorial contest is tight and promises to be hard-fought throughout the election season. Should Walker win big over Burke, talk of a 2016 presidential or vice-presidential run is sure to increase as well.

Should Burke successfully wrest the governor’s office from him this coming November, that could be a death blow to Walker’s presidential aspirations. And with national Republicans casting about for a 2016 presidential nominee to go up against presumptive Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton, a Walker defeat -- or even a very tight win -- might have repercussions far beyond the Badger State’s borders.