The White House recently announced that President Barack Obama would campaign for Mary Burke in the final week of the election. Obama will be campaigning in a number of gubernatorial races, a long overdue shift from his focus on keeping Democrats in control of the U.S. Senate.
"It's Election Day in Wisconsin tomorrow, and I'm standing by Tom Barrett. He'd make an outstanding governor. -- bo."
To be fair, Mr. President, that's about as excited as anyone got for Tom Barrett.
Over the last several months, I've watched Mary Burke become a solid gubernatorial candidate. She's a ray of hope after four years of single-party rule of Wisconsin's executive, legislative and judicial branches that has damaged our state's finances, educational system, environment and health.
The national Democrats ignore that. Instead they send me three to five emails a day asking me to donate money because Al Franken's Senate race in Minnesota is down to a single-digit lead. Then they send me more emails wondering if I saw the previous emails.
The fundraising emails mostly say I should give money so Republicans don't win control of the Senate. Based on this last session of Congress, I'm not exactly sure how much of a difference that would make in my day-to-day life. Even with a majority, Senate Republicans in D.C. won't have the power of their state-level counterparts -- they won't be able to overcome Democratic filibusters, and Obama will still be in the White House.
But I have felt the impact of state-level politics. So have others who live in states that, like Wisconsin, saw a strong shift to the right in 2010 and the wacky policy experiments that came along with it.
Democrats have often been too focused on Washington, and it has hurt them. They largely ignore state legislatures when lawmakers draw up suspect electoral maps. Why is Sean Duffy still in the House of Representatives? In part because Republicans in Madison were able to draw him a better map.
Too little, too late?
Winning those state elections lets Republicans build up their electoral farm team state by state. Heck, November's gubernatorial contest in Wisconsin is a chance to embarrass and potentially stop a 2016 GOP presidential contender now.
Walker has a nationwide fundraising machine supported by billionaires from New York and Texas. Burke has the support of actor and East High alumnus Bradley Whitford. While I'm sure Billy Madison and West Wing residuals are not insubstantial, the financial and logistical support is a bit lopsided.
Perhaps Burke is better off for the lack of national support. Her biggest hiccup was a jobs plan plagiarized by the hackier elements of the Democratic Party, who exemplify the bureaucratic entropy of failing upwards.
I still disagree with Democratic Party Chair Mike Tate's decision to clear the field for Burke before the Democratic primary. Burke could be an even stronger candidate if she had cut her teeth in a face-off with state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout or Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris. But I do understand what the state party saw in Burke.
Burke's ability to go out and connect with Wisconsinites has impressed me. In a race all about turnout, she has been out there among the people of Wisconsin -- spending time with the distant but very Democratic counties in the far northern portion of the state. Burke held Walker to a tie in the debates; Walker never got her off-balance the way he was able to repeatedly get under Barrett's skin. She did far better than U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin did against Tommy Thompson in their 2012 Senate debates.
According to the latest Marquette University Law School poll, Burke and the state-level Democrats have gotten this race down to a tie. That's impressive for a race many pundits were writing off several months ago. The national Democrats finally started to take notice, sending first lady Michelle Obama to Milwaukee and Madison.
I worry that President Obama's support may be too little, too late. But if Burke's year-plus of travel around the state can get Democrats outside of the bigger cities to vote and Obama gets the people in Milwaukee fired up, this very tight race might just go in Burke's favor. If nothing else, it's better than that recall tweet.