How negative ads could sway the Governor's race - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

How negative ads could sway the Governor's race

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MADISON (WKOW) -- The race for Governor has taken a negative turn in recent weeks.

Republican Governor Scott Walker's campaign released an ad July 16 criticizing democratic challenger Mary Burke for benefiting from her family's company, Trek Bicycles, outsourcing jobs overseas.

Burke then hit back with a response ad on July 18, criticizing Walker's administration for awarding state money from the Wisconsin Economic Development corporation to two companies that outsourced jobs.

Walker serves the chair of the WEDC board.

Walker's campaign responded with another ad of its own
July 22 in which a narrator says Trek makes "99 percent of (its) bikes overseas."

Walker, speaking to the media during a campaign stop at a GOP field office in Madison on Wednesday, said the ads are fair game because Burke has made Trek Bicycles a focal point of her campaign.

"It has nothing to do with her character. It has nothing to do with her business," Walker said. "It has everything to do with looking at her full record, and particularly the hypocrisy of talking about things like raising the minimum wage when she herself benefits from a company that sends jobs to China where workers on average make less than $2.00 an hour."

"If someone is running a campaign saying, 'the reason you should vote for me is because of my record building (Trek) into what it is today,' she should not only get credit for things that are positive," Walker said. "She should also take responsibility for things that may not be."

But the negative tone in the two ads released this month contrasts with the Walker campaign's first ad
, released April 15, which highlighted what Walker considers several of his major achievements since taking off.

The April 15 ad was more consistent with the message the Governor promoted in his book, released last November, in which the Governor said a campaign focused on his signature piece of legislation, Act 10, was crucial in beating back a recall attempt by Democrats.

Act 10 limited collective bargaining abilities of most public sector unions.

Walker writes in chapter 22 of the book that telling voters about the money saved due to Act 10 was a more powerful message than the negative advertising used by challenger Tom Barrett. Walker writes in the book, Unintimidated: A Governor's Story and a Nation's Challenge, that his recall campaign focused on how his policies were moving the state forward rather than on criticizing Barrett.

"In the end, I felt confident the negative attack ads from our opponents could not overcome the power of positive results. As I've often said, good policy is good politics, and our election would prove it," Walker writes in the book, recounting the day of the recall election.

Burke campaign spokesperson Joe Zepecki said the two recent ads show Walker is not confident in his record as the state's chief executive. In the latest Marquette University Law School Political Poll, released Wednesday, Burke leads Walker 47% to 46% among likely voters.

"What's evident is that Governor Walker knows he doesn't have a record to run on when it comes to job creation," Zepecki said. "That's why you're seeing false, negative attack after negative attack."

Zepecki said Burke is hoping her campaign's future ads will be positive.

"Mary is going to continue to lay out who she is, where she's coming from and what her values are," Zepecki said. "She'll lay out her vision for the state."

Political scientist Barry Burden said the Walker campaign's two latest ads could be due to concern about Burke's campaign beginning to gather steam.

"Most observers early on thought this was Walker's race to lose," Burden said. "He's in a very strong position being an incumbent, having also won a recall election. He can raise a lot of money."

"So the fact that he's running negative, or at least critical, advertising in this point of the campaign, in July and August, suggests he really feels Burke is a threat. The polls, at least the Marquette Poll, suggest that's the case," Burden said.

Burden said negative or critical ads are typically used by a challenger against an incumbent. He said Burke, as the challenger, has an obligation to criticize Walker's record if she's to convince voters that the Governor does not deserve a second term in office.

Thus Burden said he's surprised to see Walker, the incumbent, being the first candidate to go negative.

"Often you see an incumbent try to play a kind of 'Rose Garden' strategy where he or she talks about the great things they've done in office," Burden said.

Burden said the Governor's recent strategy could be due to his campaign taking notice of the 2012 US Senate race between then-congresswoman Tammy Baldwin and former Governor Tommy Thompson. Burden said Baldwin used negative advertising throughout the summer to paint Thompson as out of touch with Wisconsin's voters. He said those ads stuck and doomed Thompson when November rolled around.

"I think Burke and Walker see (that race) and realize you can undermine an opponent in July and August," Burden said.

Burden said most likely voters have already made up their minds regarding the Governor's race. But he said a small demographic, likely 10 percent of the electorate at most, remains persuadable.

"To find someone who's up for grabs, who's undecided, and willing to hear the evidence and make a decision, they're few in number," Burden said. "They're also hard for the campaigns to reach."

"So we're going to see a lot of blunt ads just as an instrument to try and get at those voters," Burden said. 

"Those voters are very pragmatic," Burden said. "They want results and aren't concerned about ideology, party or personality," meaning they might decide who to vote for based on which campaign makes the most compelling argument on the airwaves.

But Burden said overly-critical ads can backfire. He said negative ads seen as too personal or untrue can turn voters off. 

  • Which candidate would you like to see win Wisconsin's race for governor?

  • Thank you for participating in our poll. Here are the results so far:

    (D) Mary Burke
    63%
    360 votes
    (D) Brett Hulsey
    4%
    22 votes
    (R) Scott Walker
    33%
    190 votes
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