Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker entered the 2014 election cycle as a favorite over Democratic challenger Mary Burke for a number of reasons. He is an incumbent, he has gobs of money and he is a Republican running during a midterm election, when the president’s party typically fares poorly.
But polls suggest that the lukewarm feelings Wisconsinites have for President Obama do not translate into increased support for Republicans, including Walker. Unlike in 2010, when he and many other Republicans in Democratic-leaning states were swept into office by a fierce backlash against Obama, Walker may not have a GOP wave at his back as he runs for reelection.
Even though the past two statewide polls conducted by the Marquette University Law School have shown Obama’s approval rating hovering below 50 percent, they have also shown Walker locked in a virtual tie with Burke.
In the previous Marquette poll, conducted in May, 47 percent said they would like to see Congress controlled by Democrats, compared to 40 percent who wanted to see Republicans in charge. The most recent poll did not ask the same question.
Nationally, the Real Clear Politics polling average has Democrats leading Republicans in the “generic Congressional ballot” by 1.2 percent.
In contrast, in the days before the 2010 election, Republicans led in the polls by an average of 9.4 percent.
It is within this context that Walker is going on the attack early and aggressively against Burke, even resorting to rhetoric about her record as a businesswoman that many of his backers in the business community find distasteful.
John Torinus, a Walker supporter who sits on the board of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s powerful business lobby, dismissed the attacks against Trek for outsourcing to China as “shallow,” and a member of the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board complained that Walker was acting like “team Obama.”
It may seem illogical that Walker, who has come to prominence nationally by pushing hard-right policies, would pursue attacks that irk his biggest fans. But in the end, he knows that he has to do more to win than simply get conservatives to the polls. Unlike in 2010, when a significant “enthusiasm gap” between Republicans and Democrats led to an uncharacteristically conservative electorate, the polling in 2014 suggests those voting in Wisconsin will be more representative of the state’s purple politics.
In that context, Walker may be wise to take a page out of Team Obama's playbook.