Tom Barrett was on fire last night.
Through virtually all of his political career, Barrett has suffered the bad rap of being a nice guy without sufficient "fire in the belly."
The guy won tough races for State Assembly, State Senate, Congress, Milwaukee Mayor, and came close in two grueling previous campaigns for governor. Nobody achieves all that without copious amounts of energy and drive.
The problem has been that Barrett is a truly nice guy, and his calm demeanor often obscures the passion he has for public service. But it won't be hidden during this campaign, and certainly wasn't last night in his speech to the crowd at his victory party in Milwaukee.
Barrett promised to "end the ideological civil war" that Scott Walker started.
He exploded out of the box fully aware that he's in the sprint of his life. This is no marathon. It will be twenty-seven twenty-four hour days. Barrett made it a point to leave no doubt that he understands that and that he's ready for it.
How he said what he said last night was part of the message. He was on the attack from the start. He hit Walker on his pathetic performance on jobs, on his out of state travel to raise out of state money, on his divide (and divide and divide) and conquer leadership style.
There was energy and even just the right measure of anger in Tom Barrett's voice and demeanor. Everyone in the crowd felt it. Finally, we have the candidate who is going to speak for all of us in the fight to restore civility and Wisconsin values of fair play back to our politics.
This is a tricky message. Anger and civility are an uneasy, if not contradictory, set of emotions. But during the brief primary campaign and certainly last night Tom Barrett showed that he could pull it off.
We've got our candidate. So, now what?
Two things: Turn out the faithful, and convince the undecided voters.
Plenty of resources and effort will go into turning out already decided Barrett voters, but given yesterday's historic voter numbers and Tom's aggressive start, I'm not very concerned about that. This is a chance to make history and few people this side of the turf will want to miss it.
On Walker's side, we need to keep in mind that GOP voters turned out for the governor in only slightly smaller numbers than the Dems did for a primary that wasn't any kind of serious race. They're plenty motivated too.
So, it seems to me that this race will be decided by the sliver of undecided voters up for grabs. As a rule, undecideds break for the challenger. The theory is that they've already have misgivings about the incumbent who they know and are only waiting for the challenger to introduce himself and close the deal.
Based on his performance last night, it seems to me that Tom Barrett is going to close a lot of deals in the next three weeks.