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Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2010

The Next Governor

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Anyone trained in public opinion research knows that the polls in this summer’s media reports about what’s going to happen in the November elections are totally meaningless.

In fact, there are no truly reliable polls even to tell us who will be the candidates for governor of Wisconsin after the primary on Sept. 14.

We can be reasonably certain the Democratic nominee will be Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett since he is the only major candidate on that party’s ballot.

But anyone who claims to know whether Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker or former Congressman Mark Neumann will be the Republican candidate is faking it.

Polls have very little reliability at a time when folks haven’t really started paying attention to the campaigns and no one knows who will bother to vote in a low-turnout primary.

Anyone relying on Milwaukee media for information has the added distortion of the clear “homer” bias that has been demonstrated toward local candidates.

That’s the reverse of the usual bias against big, bad Milwaukee that traditionally exerts a strong influence on statewide elections.

I’ve said for a year that any mayor of Milwaukee would have to overcome historic odds to be elected governor. The last governor to be elected from Milwaukee was Republican industrialist Julius Heil, who served two two-year terms beginning in 1939.

One thing that could make it easier for Barrett, however, would be for the Republicans also to nominate a Milwaukee candidate.

Despite that, the Republican Party establishment has fallen all over itself to embrace Walker, who pulled out of the gubernatorial race four years ago when the party decided it was Green Bay Congressman Mark Green’s turn.

But anyone who believes the party geniuses calling the shots for Republicans this year have a clue what’s going on hasn’t been paying attention to Republican primaries around the country.

Repeatedly, the handpicked Republican Party candidate has been upset by an outsider, often someone who is even more politically extreme and possibly harder to elect in November.

Walker, Neumann Similarities

Of course, when you try to compare Walker and Neumann, it can be difficult to determine who’s the most extreme. They differ more in style and personality than in ideology.

In the Milwaukee area, Walker definitely has the advantage of a local media willing to gloss over his record to promote his candidacy.

Whether it’s county infrastructure falling into disrepair or sexual assaults in the county’s mental health facility, apparently no failures under Walker are horrendous enough to raise questions about his ability to manage the government of the entire state.

Walker is free to present himself statewide as a reformer who has held down property taxes for eight years without the local media—which really knows better—giving a more accurate picture of the financial shambles of Milwaukee County.

Of course, Neumann is no more honest than Walker in the contrived image he has presented to voters.

Because there is no more damaging epithet in Tea Party politics than to call someone a “career politician,” Neumann uses that vile obscenity to describe both Walker and Barrett.

Neumann wraps himself in the holy garb of an independent businessman, one of those outsiders who can win a Republican primary because right-wing voters are fed up with those horrible “career politicians.”

But if Neumann is not a career politician, it’s not for want of trying. This is Neumann’s sixth political campaign, only two of which were successful.

Neumann twice ran for Congress in the 1st District before finally getting elected to two terms. He also unsuccessfully ran statewide as the Republican nominee against Sen. Russ Feingold in a spectacularly negative campaign.

So the fact that Neumann is a businessman instead of a career politician was not his own choice. It was the choice of the voters.

In recent weeks, Neumann has attempted to present himself as a kinder, gentler opponent of creating jobs for the unemployed and preventing poor families from living on the streets.

But there is little question that if Neumann were the Republican nominee for governor, he would be the candidate best positioned and most temperamentally suited to run an aggressive anti-Milwaukee campaign against Barrett, playing on racial fears and resentment of the big city around the state.

Walker, trying to take as many Milwaukee votes away from Barrett as possible, can’t run an anti-Milwaukee campaign. At the same time, for a whole lot of folks out in the state, being Milwaukee’s county executive is as odious as being Milwaukee’s mayor.

We all look alike, you know.

Frankly, given the tone of most of the Republican campaigns this year, it’s somewhat surprising more Republican leaders haven’t embraced Neumann’s negative advantages.

Watch out, though. In a lot of Republican primaries, voters have ignored their party leaders and nominated nasty little candidates of their own.

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