Burke's campaigned on generic issues.
Mary Burke was a good pick for a gubernatorial candidate. She was an outsider with business and philanthropic experience. Perhaps most importantly, Burke wasn't involved with any of the major political strife of the last four years.
Burke presented an opportunity to make the race into something other than a referendum on Gov. Scott Walker. So, the state Democratic Party decided to make the race into a referendum on Walker.
Chair Mike Tate cleared the field so Burke didn't have to face a primary. This eliminated the one time in the election cycle Democrats would have held the majority of media attention. Instead, they fed right into the narrative of Walker vs. Not Walker.
The Burke campaign could never stop talking about Walker. The major campaign message for Burke was that Walker hasn't created enough jobs. Ads focused on Walker's tax cuts and how disproportionately they benefited the rich. Let's rewind: Democrats ran ads telling voters that Walker cut their taxes.
When not talking about Walker, Burke's entire platform was filled with the most generic Democratic platform ideas -- equal pay, environmental protection, perplexingly vague school promises. Each and every one of those ideas appeals almost entirely to a base that was going to vote anyway.
The party went into this election knowing that Wisconsin Democrats have only won a real majority of voters in a midterm once since 1982. But they never had a focused plan to build a broader coalition or boost turnout among casual voters.
Burke pushed for raising the minimum wage, but with a Republican lock on the Legislature, it looked like an empty campaign promise. So she should have gotten bold, promising to raise it unilaterally through the Department of Workforce Development. She would have looked serious.
The underdog in a race shouldn't play it safe. Burke's campaign only supported medical marijuana. That's the milquetoast answer, like when Dems only supported civil unions a decade ago. You want independents and the apathetic? Support full legalization. Democrats hated Walker so much in this race Burke's campaign didn't have to worry about losing them by supporting some unconventional policies.
Both of these issues are popular with many Wisconsin voters. For Democrats, their issues are not the problem; it is their messaging and their messengers.
Marijuana legalization could have started a discussion on Wisconsin's ridiculous incarceration rates. The Democrats needed Milwaukee to turn out huge to win. President Barack Obama stopping in for an hour was nice, but Wisconsin has crazy racial incarceration disparities -- the worst in the nation -- that went ignored again this election.
The Democrats played by the same old handbook; it's why Walker was never shaken. They recruited an outsider candidate and made her into the ultimate insider candidate. Worst of all, they made some basic mistakes (cough, cough, plagiarism) that kept Burke off her mark.
Mary Burke could have been the first female governor of Wisconsin. She and progressives all across Wisconsin were failed by her campaign staff and party leadership. Wisconsin Democrats need new leaders. The current Democratic leadership is 0 for 3 in gubernatorial elections; it is time for them to go.