A Democratic campaign strategist says the gubernatorial primary is still an open race just a few weeks out from the Aug. 14 primary, and three or four candidates have a clear path to the nomination.
“I think it’s going to be a fast and furious final sprint here,” said Joe Zepecki, who previously worked for Democratic campaigns at the state and federal level.
He appeared Sunday, along with Republican strategist Mark Graul, on “UpFront with Mike Gousha,” produced in partnership with WisPolitics.com.
“I think there’s three or four that have a very clear path to the nomination,” Zepecki said, citing state DPI Superintendent Tony Evers, former state Rep. Kelda Roys, union leader Mahlon Mitchell and Milwaukee attorney Matt Flynn.
Gousha asked if the primary race was Evers’ to lose.
“No, he needs to go out there and win it,” Zepecki said.
“The fact that you have not seen mass communication from candidates for governor on the Democratic side means that in the last month here, there’s going to be some movement, and if I was Mr. Evers, I would working my tail off, running like I’m behind. Because the moment there appears to be an alternative, he stands at risk of losing some of that support,” Zepecki said.
The other candidates are running strong, he said, “but it’s hard to see how they have the money to get up on TV and get their message out.”
Graul said it’s “most telling that we’re five weeks away, and no one knows much about the Dem candidates.”
“We’re talking about a field that hasn’t quite distinguished itself quite yet,” Graul said, calling Evers “kind of the default frontrunner.”
Graul said races against an incumbent are more about the incumbent than about the challenger.
“(Republican Gov.) Scott Walker is in a position right now where he has the best story he’s ever had to tell,” Graul said, listing record low unemployment, a budget surplus, more money going to education and lower property taxes as factors working in Walker’s favor.
“I’m really not sure how any of these Democratic candidates who haven’t yet distinguished themselves really are going to mount much of a tough campaign, except for the environment that we’re all expecting to be tough for Republicans,” Graul said.
Gousha pressed Graul on which Democratic candidate Walker would most like to face. Graul didn’t choose, but said Evers is an “easily quantifiable commodity” that Walker would match up well against.
On the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, Graul said Republicans have “two really strong candidates.”
State Sen. Leah Vukmir “has done a great job” of unifying the grass roots behind her candidacy, which he said is important in a low-turnout election.
“She’s put herself in a really good position,” Graul said.
“That said, Kevin Nicholson has run a strong campaign too now. He’s got a lot of support from outside the state, but that really doesn’t matter. All that money spends the same. And I think he’s done a good job of sort of positioning his story as an outsider,” Graul said.
Gousha asked Zepecki which Republican candidate the incumbent, Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, would want to run against.
“I don’t think it matters,” Zepecki said. “I think the Republicans have a very different primary going on. They’re going to have to bring everybody back together the day after August 14,” he said, because Vukmir and Nicholson “have been very sharp with each other.”
Also on the program, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said the city is experiencing an “economic renaissance,” and the controversial streetcar project is part of the boom.
Rails for the first route have been laid, the first cars have arrived, and the city says the public will soon see testing of the system. The streetcar is expected to begin full-time operations and open to the public this fall.
“You think eventually you can win over the critics?” Gousha asked the mayor.
“Well I’m not going to win over all the critics, but what I want people to realize is that the streetcar is really part of a vision. And I think what you are seeing right now, being executed, in the heart of the city is that vision, because we’re in the midst of an economic renaissance unlike anything we’ve in our lifetime,” Barrett said.
Gousha also asked Barrett about the city’s lead-in-water problem. Many homes in the city get drinking water from antiquated lead pipes, and the city’s health department has been under fire over its handling of the issue.
“How are you going to restore public confidence that you’re doing the right thing, that kids’ lives aren’t being put in jeopardy?” Gousha said.
“At every juncture if there’s been an issue with lead, I’ve talked to the public about it, because trust is so important. Are there problems? Yes there are problems. Have they been solved? Not all of them, but I do think will be, absolutely yes,” Barrett said.
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