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Democratic Primary Likely to Be Decided on Style Points, Strategies

If voters are leaning more toward Barrett in Tuesday's recall election, it may be because Falk overplayed her hand as unions' champion, while Milwaukee mayor plays more to the middle.

A comparison of leading Democratic candidates Kathleen Falk and Tom Barrett going into Tuesday’s recall primary shows their differences are more about style and political strategy than substance on the issues.

Both campaigns have hammered against Gov. Scott Walker’s cuts to public education and vowed to restore school spending. Both have focused on the need for job creation and derided Walker’s record on it.

On public health matters, the economy and, yes, on collective bargaining for public workers, they are essentially on the same page over the long haul.

Where Falk and Barrett differ is not as much in their ultimate policy aims, but in their approaches.

, almost the instant the deadline for turning in recall signatures passed. She quickly declared her intention to fully restore all aspects of public collective bargaining that Republicans had repealed.

She sought and won the endorsements or recommendations of a slew of labor organizations, including the largest public employee unions — AFSCME, SEIU, WEAC. Falk even went so far as to sign a “veto pledge” to turn back any state budget that arrived on her desk without restoring collective bargaining in full.

Barrett, by contrast, waited… and waited… to get into the race, and just days before being re-elected as mayor of Milwaukee.

Barrett eased into the question of collective bargaining, refused to sign any such veto pledge, and while he has more recently said he would work to restore collective bargaining, he would do it in measures, not in one fell swoop.

Falk is seen as intense, outspoken and unabashedly liberal.

Barrett is seen as more mild-mannered, deliberative and moderate.

Given the fierce political division that has prevailed in Wisconsin for more than a year since the passage of Act 10, one could be forgiven for thinking that Falk — early and unstinting in her assault on Walker’s measures — ought to be wiping up the floor with Barrett among angry Democrats.

In fact, the opposite seems to be true. Barrett was statistically even with or ahead of Falk in most polls even before he declared his candidacy. As soon as he did declare, he began to gain steam. In the latest poll, released Wednesday by the Marquette University Law School, Falk had dropped precipitously to lag Barrett by a 17 percentage point margin.

One analyst believes that Falk has been her own worst enemy by seriously miscalculating the political climate.

Barrett seen as 'more likeable,' less divisive

John McAdams, associate professor of political science at Marquette, who has analyzed that and earlier polls as closely as anyone, has as much as declared the race over.

"I'll be shocked if he doesn't win," McAdams said. "We in this business are sometimes shocked, but I don't think we will be this time.

“I think it’s been obvious that Barrett has been a better Democratic candidate. In earlier polls, he was shown as ‘more likeable.’ He cuts a more moderate figure.

“In spite of criticizing Walker’s measures, he used them to balance his own budget.”

Falk, on the other hand, cast herself almost as Walker in reverse, McAdams said, in heavily currying favor with public unions.

“But being the union candidate doesn’t get you much in Wisconsin,” he said, “especially in the public sector. Just being the union candidate is not a big boon.

“Our poll showed people split about evenly on their support of public workers’ unions; there’s much more support for private workers’ unions, and that hasn’t changed."

“Falk hasn’t chosen to campaign to the general public, particularly any independents. There’s a small group of people in the middle that adds up to the difference. And they just don’t care that much about collective bargaining as an issue.”

The Marquette poll did, indeed, show that not just a few people in the middle, but, in fact, as issues that concerned them most.

“That veto pledge was probably a mistake,” McAdams said. “I think it indicates she is more combative, but some people have had enough of that.”

Barrett, McAdams said, also has more statewide recognition.

“Fewer people said they didn’t know enough about him to have an opinion. Between that and a more likeable, less confrontational persona, it’s no surprise that Barrett is outpolling her.

"That said, they are both liberal Democrats, and they would aim to be in the same place in the end."

Teachers feel Falk is tailored to them

Among the unions supporting her, there is some belief that Falk is the stronger, more substantive candidate on policy issues, with more clear, detailed plans — but that the message may not have reached the general public.

“There are differences,” said Christina Brey, spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Education Association Council, which offered Falk its recommendation well before Barrett entered the race.

“To be clear,” Brey said, “we also spoke to a lot of potential candidates. It was a pretty detailed process. And we feel (Falk) is the strongest candidate to recall Scott Walker.

“We looked at clarity of positions and plans, and intensity of their belief and commitment," Brey added. "We talked about priority issues to our members, such as keeping educators employed and able to bargain collectively — because when they no longer have a voice in their working conditions, that has a direct impact in the classroom.”

Brey said WEAC felt the need to make an early recommendation to its members because the time frame of the recall process was so tight.

“The governor since November has been able to raise unlimited funds," she said. "We needed to get the ball rolling. The reason was largely to open the door to start talking about the issues.”

And why Falk?

“Kathleen Falk has been absolutely clear in her opposition to using public tax dollars to fund private voucher schools,” Brey said. “She has not wavered on union rights since the beginning. She has been strong on women’s issues — and 75 percent of our workers are women.

“Also, generally, just her involvement in the grassroots movement that developed here. She’s been a part of it since the beginning. It’s been important to see her up front.

“We’ve got a clear record to look at.”

To labor, Falk is the perfect anti-Walker

That view is echoed by Frank Shansky, labor relations director of Local 212 of the American Federation of Teachers, representing the Milwaukee Area Technical College.

Falk “was involved in the recall from the beginning,” Shansky said. “That’s not an anti-Barrett statement, just a pro-Falk statement.”

Like WEAC, AFT wanted to move quickly on the recall, Shansky said.

“We interviewed her, we talked to her about a lot of different issues, and she had a very good record,” he said. “She was strong relative to education, strong relative to collective bargaining, she has a strong environmental record, and as Dane County executive, she worked cooperatively with labor.

“Compared with Scott Walker, she is on the opposite end of every one of those efforts, and that is where we stand.

“That said, and all other things being equal, I can assure you — I can’t stress strongly enough — the candidate who comes out ahead will have our full support.

“June 5 – that’s where the focus is.”

To police, Barrett is the antidote to division

Falk’s list of union endorsements dwarfs Barrett’s, but he did not come up empty.

A handful of unions are backing Walker, among them the Iron Workers District Council of North Central States and the Wisconsin Professional Police Association.

These unions are very strong for their size, enjoy broad-based respect, and their members are much less likely to be liberal.

The WPPA is the state’s largest law enforcement group, with 10,000 members.

“Our board determined early on that we would wait for a full slate of candidates,” said James Palmer, president of the WPPA. “It was important to hear from our members.

“The other unions made a rush to judgment. That was a miscalculation on the part of the unions.

“Then, some of the things Kathleen Falk did early on hurt her — particularly the unwise and narrow-minded veto decision," he added. “I don’t think the general populace want someone who’s in the pocket of labor unions any more than they want someone who’s in the pocket of big business.”

“To the grassroots, I think, a single issue makes a candidate less electable.”

Electability, to the WPPA, is what it is all about, Palmer said.

“This is a calculus our board went through,” he said. “Our membership feels like Scott Walker has been bad for Wisconsin, bad for public safety. We lost our right to bargain our health care. In our line of work, that's a major issue.

“Our primary goal must be that Scott Walker is defeated.

“When we looked at the four candidates, Tom Barrett was not only good on our issues but also best positioned to defeat Scott Walker."

“If you look at law enforcement officers, they are mostly conservative. Our members have been saying, and I've heard it over and over, ‘I’ve been a lifelong Republican, and this is embarrassing. Never again.’”

The biggest difference between Falk and Barrett, Palmer said, in agreement with Marquette’s McAdams, “is a distinction in style.”

“Tom Barrett would use a multifaceted approach to restoring collective bargaining. That’s a style that will be well-received.

“Scott Walker has been criticized for a ‘My way or the highway’ approach, and Kathleen Falk often sounds the same.”

Local organizers just want a winner

At the grassroots level, there is little concern about any of the perceived differences between Falk and Barrett in either style or substance — but plenty of agreement that either one of them must rise to the occasion of taking on Walker and winning.

Dale Dulberger, who is active with the liberal group Grassroots Tosa said of the Democratic candidates, “On a scale of 1 to 10, I don’t see too much difference on policy matters.

“Kathleen Falk had the endorsements, she’s competent, she's female — and that could be important — and she balanced the budget” as Dane County executive.

“I thought she might be a potential leader, but I’m also supportive of Tom Barrett. When he ran for governor the second time, I thought he’d make a fine chief executive.

“It’s understandable that with political experience at the state, federal and municipal levels, he would be seen as a better candidate for these times.

“You’ve got to measure people on what they’ve done. Tom has supported collective bargaining; so has Kathleen.

“Tom has managed the city of Milwaukee in a gentler way. But external forces and the marketplace haven’t worked for him. He’s done a pretty good job, but what’s needed is a structural change, a Marshall Plan to rebuild this economically distressed area.”

On a state level, Dulberger said, the issue is “jobs, jobs, jobs….”

Dulberger said that he had spoken recently to an acquaintance who is an out-of-state businessman, and by no means a liberal.

“He said, ‘You know something is wrong when there’s this much noise, this much static.’

“Whoever is elected (Tuesday), people will close ranks behind them.”

Racine Progressive May 08, 2012 at 12:17 AM
Walker has offended almost every group in Wisconsin except the TEA party. Well, the party is over Scooter. Barrett for Governor!
skinnyDUDE May 08, 2012 at 12:34 AM
Barrett been rejected twice already. I think he will get the memo this time too. Liberal Kool Aide must be addicting. :)
Michael May 08, 2012 at 01:23 AM
I'm a journeyman meat cutter in a meat cutters union. I pay the weekly dues, don't like it, don't hate it. I just started paying attention to politics recently. I think Barrett's an idiot, and like what Walker has done and how he defends himself. Does that make me a righty or lefty?
Bren May 08, 2012 at 01:57 AM
Wrong, josh. The AIG scandal (bailout money used for bonuses) was courtesy of the Bush administration. Obama made sure there were metrics attached to bailouts. Walker is not responsible for job losses due to the recession since he didn't take office until January 2011. However, he ran on a "250,000 new jobs in my first term." He must have known that was impossible but apparently said anything to get elected. Since he created the metric he should be measured by it. Again, Milwaukee has a difficult set of circumstances because so many white collar workers have moved out of the city. Less tax revenue is an issue. 15 years of budget cuts have created serious issues in MPS schools. None of these factors occurred overnight. There's no easy fix, but Walker handing out the highest cut to K-12 education in state history sure didn't help. What you call "Obamacare" has overwhelming support from Democrats, Republicans, and Independents when the components (isolated from title) are reviewed: Young people may stay on parents' health insurance until age 26; individuals may no longer be denied health insurance due to pre-existing conditions; no more rate discrimination against women; subsidies for small businesses to provide healthcare, etc. The reason for the multi-state challenge is simply because the GOP is committed to ensuring Obama is a one-term president--never mind what' good for Americans.
Bren May 08, 2012 at 02:01 AM
J.B., "it have become incoherent." Resorting to ungrammatical insults now, are we? Amusing.
Luke May 08, 2012 at 02:09 AM
@Michael I'm an independent, so I just say you have common sense. However, you are certainly right of center. Welcome to the club!!!
Bren May 08, 2012 at 02:10 AM
Greg, "Not if you and the rest of the left have your way." What does that even mean in the context of the discussion? Brian, the difference is that Barrett would never campaign on the premise that he could create 250,000 new jobs within his first term as did Walker. A shameful display of cynicism and disrespect from our current governor. That's not Barrett's style at all. Brian, were you angry at public employee unions prior to February 2011? Just curious.
Craig May 08, 2012 at 02:19 AM
Bren: Offshoring to China? That didn't start with Bush. You know who gave "Most Favored Nation" status to China. That giant sucking sound took a decade to get rolling, and will likely longer to fix. As an Independant Bren, you sure forget Liberal mistakes. Admit it Bren, you have a man crush on Clinton.
Brian Dey May 08, 2012 at 02:23 AM
Yes Bren I was. After sitting at the table with the unions for three years and watch as they shamelessly advocated for closing schools so they could get a raise; or watching them load the board with their hand-picked board members; or watching them beg for referenda so they could get the free health insurance. Yes Bren, I am one of the ones that couldn't have been happier as I saw 85 cents of every dollar spent on teachers who politicized in a partisan manner our children; while as a board member, I had to make do with 15 cents on the dollar for everything else. As for Barrett, the guy is a shameless schill with no plan, no ideas and no results. Those that advocate for returning the hand-outs to the elitist unions are so against improving education. Barrett is th poster child for wrecking education. And Falk? She is even worse than Barrett with her head so far up the b-tt of the unions its pathetic. I still have not heard one idea from either. One plan. Only pandering to the elitist unions. If either wins, this state is heading for disaster. BTW- Nice to see you have a new heartthrob (ALEC). I think the Koch Bros. might actually get jealous.
skinnyDUDE May 08, 2012 at 02:49 AM
The country is right of center . When solutions are presented to problems most american's have a conservative slant . The exceptions are those gaming the system as they want a free ride from cradle to grave. Most don't have that insane mindset yet but the liberal plan is to gain control via government dependance. It sick to support a platform where merit and effort mean nothing and deficits are chosen over solutions. I was in the teamsters myself . So i know both sides and Conservative is the only place I see solutions.
Adam Wienieski May 08, 2012 at 03:03 AM
@Dirk, how did women survive until now without the government making all their decisions for them? Julia is a pathetic figment of the progressive imagination, the poster child for a cradle to grave entitlement lifestyle that is supposed to be provided by Obama administration policies. This is the Democrat ideal, complete and total reliance on the state. How patronizing to self-sufficient women. Barack Obama is a chauvinistic control freak who would marry every woman to the welfare nanny state.
Mike May 08, 2012 at 04:01 AM
Bren, make us a promise. If Walker wins you will just go away never to be heard from again.
Clark May 08, 2012 at 04:48 AM
Barrett- 'more likeable' hahahahahaha. Can we just pick 'none of the above' on the ballot?? None of these goofs have a plan other than to raise taxes. What is their job plan?? Raise taxes on corporations and wealthy and then then the leave then state and don't create jobs??
Steve ® May 08, 2012 at 04:53 AM
Why is it so embarrassing to admit you are a lefty?
Dirk Gutzmiller May 08, 2012 at 12:37 PM
@skinnyDUDE - You say Milw. Co. improved under Walker, but the City went drastically downhill under Barrett As of the 2010 census, the county had a population of 947735, the city 594,833. The City is almost two-thirds of the County in population. Go figure. Well, to give you the benefit of the doubt, maybe you have not gotten to geography and arithmetic in school yet. You must be 18 to vote.
Dirk Gutzmiller May 08, 2012 at 12:53 PM
@Michael - Righty or Lefty? I think it makes you a PHONY, pretending to be so naive you do not even know which side of the political spectrum you are on. When I click on your name, I see vitriolic comments about the Dems. You may be wandering around in the political wilderness, but you have a shotgun. Give us a break. And Luke may be an independent, in that he cannot decide between totalitarianism and anarchy.
Dirk Gutzmiller May 08, 2012 at 12:58 PM
@Mike - If Barrett wins, promise you will continue to post your comments. Try to be chipper and breezy in your apologies, no more bitterness and scorn please.
Steve ® May 08, 2012 at 01:41 PM
Liberals do like to group everyone
Steve ® May 08, 2012 at 01:43 PM
The knob on the closet door feel off years ago. She's going to be in there a while longer.
Steve ® May 08, 2012 at 01:53 PM
Awww Bren's mom showed up :hugs:
Mike May 08, 2012 at 03:07 PM
Dirk, no problem here. I'm always chipper, breezy is questionable. Quite confident in the election results for June. The question is what will the left do when Walker keeps his job? If the right loses they now can have a recall in a year (although I doubt they'd do it). I can hear the left crying about that if they pursued it.
Satori May 08, 2012 at 03:29 PM
Greg, tell R Denis that. He doesn't seem to get it
Dirk Gutzmiller May 08, 2012 at 06:01 PM
Mike - If Walker loses, there will be no recall of the new Governor in a year. Nearly every Republican has come out against recalls on principle and cost, except in the case of severe malfeasance/criminal activity and moral turpitude.
Dirk Gutzmiller May 08, 2012 at 06:52 PM
Adam Wienieski - Sheesh! Your right-wing hysteria phrases: Cradle to grave, nanny state, government making all decisions, total reliance on the state, entitlements , welfare, etc. How many can you get into a paragraph?! Get a grip. Most of the government programs Julia gets in the little graphic are available today. Under Romney and the tea party, the safety net gets big holes or is ripped away. Julia has more of a third world life. I can see the problem the tea party, i.e., Social Darwinists, have with Julia, and the majority of people in America of either sex. If you are not lucky enough or strong enough, or born into the tiny upper class, you should just, essentially, get out of the way of the rest of us and live and die miserably. What a delightful picture Romney and his extreme conservatives paint of a kind of Mumbai slumdog existence for many if not most Americans of either gender, in contrast to the Democratic ideal that we will all have the opportunity for some modicum of opportunity, hope, comfort and dignity throughout our lives.
Alfred Kell May 08, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Barrett is milquetoast, but he is representative of what a liberal male is. Hell, look at Dirk Gutzmiller, these eunuchs are all the same.
Rachel Holley Sciortino May 08, 2012 at 07:18 PM
I find your "is this bad" drumbeat not only ridiculous, infantile and simplistic -- but annoying. Share your opinions -- but letting random sites do your talking is getting very, very old.
Rachel Holley Sciortino May 08, 2012 at 07:45 PM
Would it be possible for someone to propose what WOULD work in Milwaukee? People who HAVE to live there due to their jobs -- send their kids elsewhere for school, the schools are NOT Barrett's fault -- he tried to help but was rebuffed -- I don't praise our mayor for a good school system - that's ridiculous. Those living in Milwaukee are often there out of neccessity -- not desire. It's not a great community to live in -- it's a large, sprawling, metro area -- surprise! Urban areas are not always beautfiul -- anyone have a nice inner city that's problem free to suggest we emmulate? Fees, taxes are one of the only ways to keep money coming in to address the issues created by flight and poverty...what IS the solution if not everyone paying a bit to help?
Dirk Gutzmiller May 08, 2012 at 11:30 PM
Alfred Kell - You tea party types that open carry those big pistolas on your hip to the soccer game are not making the impression you think. Many of us are believing that the gun is compensation for a whispered inadequacy, and do a mental chortle. Suggest concealed carry, unless you are an irrepressible exhibitionist.
Tom Barrett May 09, 2012 at 01:58 AM
@Rachel Is this bad? http://www.tomthetaxer.com/
Adam Wienieski May 09, 2012 at 05:07 AM
Sorry Dirk, I left out budget busting. When Obama took office, Julia's share of the national debt was $32,000. Today it's $138,300 and rising fast. Obama is the most divisive president in history and his shameful class warfare rhetoric is dividing the country into two groups: takers and taxpayers. Guess which one he wants Julia to be?

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