In one of the strongest signs yet that Madison School Board member Mary Burke is considering a run against Gov. Scott Walker in November 2014, a polling firm is apparently testing her favorability rating among potential voters.
The poll came to light Tuesday after the Republican Party of Wisconsin filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Board regarding a telephone poll that included questions about the former Trek Bicycle executive and Commerce Secretary under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle.
The Associated Press also reported Tuesday that online records show that on June 12, the day before the poll was conducted, six Internet domain names that point toward a Burke candidacy were registered anonymously, including: Burkeforwisconsin.org, Burkeforwisconsin.com, Maryburke.org, Burkeforgovernor.com, and Burkeforgovernor.org.
Burke did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
The GOP complaint, filed against Burke and the state Democratic Party, alleges a telephone pollster asked questions about Burke and whether certain statements would influence the respondent’s vote.
The statements — evidently aimed at finding out how much negative statements about her might hurt her prospects — included that Burke took a “snowboarding sabbatical and avoided working during stretches of her life,” that she “spent six figures running for a school board seat, which could equate to her spending millions on a race for governor” and that her “family business, and former employer, have outsourced jobs overseas,” according to the complaint.
It also compared some public officials to one another, including Walker and Burke, the complaint said.
The complainant is identified as Patrick Hogan, a resident of Washington, D.C., who said he received the 30-minute call at 6:30 p.m. on June 13. Hogan was previously the Wisconsin political director for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.
The complaint states that Hogan asked the person conducting the poll who was paying to conduct the call, but the person refused to disclose the information. Under Wisconsin law, pollsters must disclose the name and address of the person paying for a poll, when asked, if the poll relates to support or opposition to a candidate.
Joe Fadness, executive director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, said Hogan recently moved to Washington from Milwaukee and his cell phone has a 414 area code number.
“We don’t know a lot about Mary Burke right now but we know they’re apparently willing to violate the law as they test her strength against Scott Walker,” Fadness said.
GAB spokesman Reid Magney said the complaint had been received. The state elections agency first must determine if there is a reasonable basis to investigate. The GAB next meets Aug. 13.
Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate said in an email that “with Scott Walker looking incredibly weak heading into 2014, Democrats are conducting a number of research surveys looking at the strengths of several potential strong challengers to the governor.”
“We are fully confident any research firms used are aware of and in full compliance with Wisconsin law,” he said.
He declined to say whether Burke was one of the candidates being vetted.
No Democrats have announced plans to run against Walker yet.
Political observers around the state said Burke’s name has come up in conversations about possible challengers to Walker, but her name hasn’t shown up in most published accounts. For example, a Green Bay Press-Gazette article before the state Democratic convention earlier this month listed 14 possible contenders, but not Burke.
UW-La Crosse political science professor Joe Heim said with no frontrunners for the job, the next tier of possibilities include Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, who ran in the recall primary last year, and Kevin Conroy, a Madison biotech company CEO.
“I’d be hard-pressed to put her on the second tier,” Heim said. “She’s just not that well known.”
If Democrats are looking at nontraditional candidates from the business community, it could be a sign that legislative leaders “might be too polarizing or tainted by the rancor of the last two years,” said Barry Burden, a UW-Madison political science professor. It’s also a sign that they see Walker’s record on job creation as his Achilles’ heel.
“All of this makes people like Mary Burke and Kevin Conroy appealing,” Burden said, referring to the president and CEO of Exact Sciences, a Madison cancer research company. “They are not household names, especially outside Dane County, but neither was Ron Johnson when he appeared on the scene in May 2010.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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