Trek CEO Mary Burke Announces Candidacy for WI Gov; GOP Promptly Purchases MaryBurke.com

Mary Burke WI Gov
Mary Burke has become the first Democrat to announce a run against incumbent Scott Walker in the 2014 Wisconsin Gubernatorial election.  The former executive at Trek Bicycle and head of the Wisconsin Department of Commerce under Gov. Jim Doyle announced her intentions this week via web video.  

She does not mention Walker by name in her announcement but calls for change in Madison saying, “”Just like Washington, our state capital has become so focused on politics and winning the next political fight, it’s pulling our state apart and our economy down.” She suggests that change is possible, adding, “But it doesn’t have to be that way.”

PPP polling taken before the announcement showed Burke as the early favorite among a pool of candidates that includes Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca, Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, and State Sen.  Kathleen Vinehout.  However, 60 percent of respondents said they still did not know enough about Burke to have an opinion, a figure common among the candidates.  As the first announced candidate Burke will have the opportunity to become the familiar face of the campaign.  

Wisconsin Republicans are looking to portray her as “out of touch” with the issues and have already commandeered the web domain MaryBurke.com which they have used to label her as part of the “failed” Doyle administration.  

Burke’s time in the Doyle Administration will likely be front and center for the beginning of the campaign as her appointment to the Department of Commerce head is her largest political accomplishment.  She has also won a school board race in Madison.  Yet, her image as a business leader who helps run a popular and stable Wisconsin company is what makes her most attractive. The race will be filled with career politicians and Burke’s outsider status gives her the ability to say she can help bring forth change without sounding hypocritical.

However, her time in the Doyle Administration will also be under scrutiny from Republicans as Walker disbanded the Commerce Department upon becoming Governor.  That issue is likely to become an early centerpiece of discussion, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

Walker dissolved the Commerce Department in 2011 and replaced it with the quasi-public Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., saying it would be more nimble and better able to meet the needs of business.
The economic development corporation received a tough audit earlier this year that found it didn’t require financial statements from companies receiving incentives, gave awards to ineligible businesses and didn’t adequately follow up to see if businesses receiving incentives were creating jobs. Walker has said all the problems the audit found have been fixed or are being fixed.  

The Republican attack on Burke’s character is already in full swing. Phil Cox, the executive director of the Republican Governors Association, called Burke a “sacrificial lamb” upon her announcement.  He suggested that Democrats preferred former Sen. Russ Feingold or Rep. Ron Kind and have settled on Burke as a backup plan.  In a statement, Cox called Burke,

A former appointee of the disastrous Jim Doyle administration, Burke’s candidacy is sure to rely on the tax-and-spend model of governing that plagued Wisconsin for years before Governor Scott Walker stepped in to clean up the mess that Burke helped create,”

This all-out attack just hours after her announcement shows that Republicans view Burke as a threat.  As a woman she will represent a clear contrast to the white male network of far right politicians in the current administration.  Her tremendous wealth will also help combat Scott Walker’s rock star status in the party, which has given him the ability to successfully raise funds out of state.  In her run for Madison school board Burke spent $128,000.  

Kenneth Mayer, political science professor at UW-Madison, explains the benefits of being the first announced candidate.

“You want to, particularly as a challenger, to try and clear the field and discourage potential challengers for the nomination to come forward. Now she gets to start raising money, put together an organization and begin to actually become a candidate and start generating support,” Mayer says.  
Yet Mayer says there are also drawbacks to announcing ones candidacy more than a year in advance.
“You provide lots of time for the opposition to begin to put their strategy together and to collect information and do opposition research,” Mayer says.

Burke’s success running her family’s company gives enables her to point to actual private sector job creation as an accomplishment.  This will contrast Walker’s broken promise of creating 250,000 jobs during his term. To meet that faux-goal he would need to create an average of 10,000 jobs a month for the next 16 months. Patrick Guarasci, a Democratic strategist, said of this scenario, “I think she brings a real contrast to a governor who talks about creating jobs with a person who’s actually done that.”

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