Two pundits on the left and right of the political spectrum agree on one thing about state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout’s official withdrawal from a potential run for governor: Democrats might have lost a valuable opportunity to shore up challenger Mary Burke’s campaign with a primary victory.
Vinehout announced on Friday she wouldn't run against Burke, a former Trek Bicycle executive.. Vinehout had been hinting strongly that she would, but said she withdrew because she had been injured too severely in a December car crash.
Tony Palmeri, a professor of communications at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and a former Green Party candidate for state office, said having only one Democratic candidate for governor -- and therefore no primary -- could dampen turnout and cost Democrats the election.
“I think there’s a feeling among Democrats and others at the grassroots level that the state Democratic Party kind of anointed Mary Burke,” Palmeri said. “I think the danger is that it just might frustrate activism, which is what might be needed to remove Walker from office.
“(Walker) can be beaten, but he’ll only be beaten if there’s excitement and activism at the street level,” Palmeri said.
Furthermore, he said the party needs more ideas and more debate of them -- another argument for a primary.
“I’m hoping there are some others listening out there who might throw their hat in the ring,” Palmeri said. “They need more ideas right now.”
Chris Lato, a former communications director for the Republican Party of Wisconsin, said he thought it was too late in the game for a new candidate to appear. As a result, he said, Burke was both the frontrunner, but also “very beatable.”
“Gov. (Scott) Walker is going to have a record of experience and a record of getting things done for this state that is going to be tough to beat,” Lato said.
Lato agreed that a primary, even if Burke were victorious anyway, could give Burke a chance to sharpen her campaigning skills before the general election.
“There’s something to be said for a candidate who’s battle-tested in a primary, since she’s a first-timer in a race of this size,” he said. “Frankly, she’s at a disadvantage. “
Palmeri, though, said he thought Burke still had a chance if she worked hard to raise her statewide profile and begin to answer questions about her position on items such as Act 10 and the state minimum wage. A primary would challenge her to do so, he said.
“I think she’s got the potential to be a great candidate,” he said. “She’s got to show people that she is in touch with the working people of the state.
“I just think a competitive primary would ultimately make her a stronger candidate,” he said.