I will not attempt to make any predictions here. I will not play the partisan. I will just let you know what I've read and what I've heard from the political insider types I hang around with sometimes.
First, there's a pretty low bar for what constitutes a good night for Democrats next Tuesday. If they somehow manage to hold onto control of the U.S. Senate and maintain the same number of seats in their minority status in the Wisconsin Senate (15 of 33 seats) and the Assembly (39 of 99), the Dems would be dodging a bullet. The odds seem to be that they will lose the U.S. Senate, and lose seats in the Assembly and possibly the state Senate as well.
Of course, none of that would mean anything to Wisconsin Democrats if they take back the governor's office. While the polls continue to show it as a toss up, I've noticed my Democratic friends, who have been skeptical, are starting to believe that Mary Burke can actually win. Now that might be just the usual tendency to get excited as Election Day nears, but they point to the heavy hitters coming in (the Obamas and the Clintons) and the money from outside groups that continues to flow here as evidence that the big players see blood in the water.
One piece of conventional wisdom points in Burke's favor. Anytime an incumbent is polling at less than 50%, they're thought to be in big trouble. That's because another political truism is that "undecided voters break to the challenger." In this race, there are very few voters who haven't made up their minds, but it stands to reason that those who haven't are looking for an alternative to the incumbent. And Scott Walker has never broken 50% in approval ratings or in polling against Mary Burke since she started running.
But another axiom is that Democratic constituencies just don't show up in off-year elections when there's no exciting presidential contest. Moreover, not only are Republicans more faithful voters, but they're motivated by Walker's record. The question for the Burke camp is if Democrats can be motivated as strongly to show up and vote against that very same record. If he weren't such a polarizing figure, that would be unlikely. But Scott Walker is maybe the most polarizing person in modern Wisconsin politics.
Then there's the anger factor. It's said this election isn't about anything in particular except the ornery mood of the voters. That usually results in some punishment of the party in power, and in this case that appears to be the Democrats, only because President Obama is one. (I don't sense Democrats feeling very powerful these days.)
But there's another way you can look at that issue. If folks are just generally in the mood to throw the bums out, well then in this case the bum is Governor Walker. Mary Burke is as unblemished by the stain of politics as they come. With only one race for school board behind her, she's practically brand new to the whole game. She doesn't have the persona of a protest candidate, but she has the profile of one, and that could be enough.
And speaking of that profile, a good indication of where it's all headed on Election Day in Wisconsin could be the race for Attorney General. In the most recent Marquette Law School poll, over 70% of voters said they didn't know much about the Democratic candidate Susan Happ or the Republican contender Brad Schimel. So if Happ starts out with better numbers than expected, it could mean that protest vote is going for a Democratic woman, a trait she shares with Mary Burke, and be a sign of where the gubernatorial race is heading.