Do the Democrats need Milwaukee for gov?


In addition to polling data that shows Tom Barrett would be in a more favorable position to run for governor than Barbara Lawton, Bruce Murphy gives another compelling reason why Barrett is the logical nominee for the Dems: he’s from Milwaukee.

Murphy begins with the conventional wisdom that Democratic statewide candidates must win 60 percent of Milwaukee County to win an election. Therefore Walker, the County Executive, would have an advantage over Lawton, who is an outsider.

This analysis is too simplistic. The conventional wisdom is there for generic candidates, and does not make up for other regional ties a Democratic candidate may have that will make up for the shortfall in Milwaukee. Lawton may have an advantage in the Green Bay area from the three and a half decades she spent there as a community activist. If her ties to the area remain strong she may be able to pick up votes that would otherwise go to a Republican. In addition, Lawton would have the support of other Green Bay types, such as Rep. Steve Kagen, whereas Walker is despised by much of the Milwaukee political establishment, and depending on how the county budget pans out, Walker could actually face a backlash locally. Moreover, Milwaukee is much bigger than Green Bay, but Walker is not going to be able to play the “favorite son” card in most of the city, much of which sees Walker as a suburbanite – an outsider.

Granted, Murphy’s claim that Barrett would make a better candidate than Lawton is hard to refute at this point. Barrett would be a much more convincing “favorite son” than Walker. First off, he is mayor, which has a political and symbolic purpose that every voter understands. Second, the press he got after trying to save the grandmother from a drunken lunatic has earned him an enormous amount of sympathy and admiration from even the most cynical voters.

However, the Democrats do not need Milwaukee to win. Obama could have lost the county and still carried Wisconsin comfortably. And presidential elections are  the closest example of elections where the “generic” candidate analysis applies.

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6 Responses to “Do the Democrats need Milwaukee for gov?”

  1. Marcus Says:

    Barb Lawton lost or underperformed in every county in Northeast Wisconsin in her primary in 2002. She has no particular base here. She sold her house and moved out of Green Bay several years ago. In a primary, her base will be the hard left of the party, the Isthmus, and the arts community. That’s not enough if she has a real competitor. In a general, she would not do well in the Northeast – she’s too liberal and she cares about worthy things that most voters don’t. The arts and campaign finance reform don’t inspire many people here, especially not in this economy.

  2. Ryan Says:

    Lawton spent three and a half decades as a prominent policy maker in Green Bay? She founded some non-profits and served on some boardsbut I wouldn’t consider that making policy and just being a native doesn’t make you well-known or prominent in the area. My guess is she runs at a huge electoral disadvantage to Walker in both the primary and general if he gets in the race.

    Obama was a special case, in most close WI elections the Democrat needs huge margins in Milwaukee county and to keep down the Republican margins in the suburbs.

    • The Sconz Says:

      You’re probably right – I probably mis-labeled her. I have heard from some that she has strong name-recognition in the area, but I do not know from first hand knowledge. I’ll add a sentence to clarify.

  3. Zach W. Says:

    I think the idea that Scott Walker would get more votes in Milwaukee County over a non-Milwaukee Democrat is overblown.

    Sure, he’s won some elections as County Executive, but let’s not forget who he ran against, as well as the fact that he’s never had to run for County Exec. with that “R” next to his name. I’m betting that would surely make a difference…

    • Irish Frog Says:

      Re Zach

      And I think Walker’s bullshit cowboy playacting would play pretty well in the Eau Claire, La Crosse and Wasau areas, not to mention the northwoods. Milwaukee would come down hard on him, but he could pick up the Green Bay area. Unless Barb gets it going here soon, I don’t think she’ll get her name out there.

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