It has been a bad month for Gov. Scott Walker. Let us count the ways.
In May a Marquette Law School poll found the governor to be in a dead heat with Democratic challenger Mary Burke. Both candidates had 46% support, leaving a narrow group of undecided voters.
Then on June 6, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb struck down Wisconsin's ban on same-sex marriage. The ban was implemented in a 2006 state constitutional amendment that Walker had strongly supported. The ground is shifting under the governor's feet, with 59% of Wisconsinites now saying they support gay marriage. He finds himself on the wrong side of history and of public opinion.
And last week the governor took a double hit. On the same day that some documents in the John Doe investigation of illegal coordination between his campaign and third-party groups were released, it was reported that Wisconsin ranked 37th in job creation.
It's all bad news for Walker's presidential ambitions, but how much does it impact this fall's gubernatorial election? Of course, nobody can say for sure, but let's take the issues one by one.
The Marquette poll is good news for Burke because it bolsters her legitimacy as a candidate and will help her raise money. In truth, it's not quite as good as it sounds. That's because Walker is well known by voters while that same poll found that only 49% of voters knew enough about Burke to have an opinion about her. Voters have a well-established view about Walker, and it will take dynamite to change that. Burke still runs the risk of being defined by the onslaught of negative advertising that has yet to come.
The Crabb ruling is at most an uncomfortable situation for Walker, but not deadly. The people most excited about the ruling and most unhappy with the governor's position on gay marriage are already strongly opposed to him for other reasons. His biggest challenge is not to go too far in admitting the obvious (gay marriage is here to stay) so as not to diminish enthusiasm among his most ardent rock-ribbed supporters. So he's making the patently ridiculous statement that suddenly his opinion on this question just doesn't count. It may sound ludicrous, but it's the best he can do, and it will probably serve his purposes well enough.
It's still too early to tell how much the John Doe revelations will matter. Again, voters who already disliked Walker for lots of other things find this reason to dislike him even more. But you can still only vote once in Wisconsin. For the few swing voters who make it to the polls in this race, details about campaign irregularities don't tend to motivate them. Among disengaged citizens (and if you're neutral on this governor, you are most definitely disengaged) there's a sense that when it comes to dirty campaigning "they all do it."
Next month there will be a Marquette poll testing public reaction to the latest developments in the story. If it turns out that the campaign-collusion allegations are swaying undecided voters away from Walker, that will be big news, and it could start a cascade in favor of Burke. But I wouldn't count on that.
That brings us to the last piece of bad news for the governor. His jobs numbers are terrible, and he cannot run from them. It's bad enough that Wisconsin will come nowhere near the 250,000 new jobs in four years that he promised. Voters might give him a pass for that if they thought he was just running into the teeth of sluggish national recovery. But the national numbers show that Wisconsin is performing poorly compared to the rest of the country. Over his time in office, Wisconsin finishes dead last in the Midwest for job creation. If we had just hit the national average we would have 57,000 more jobs in our state right now.
The central argument of his campaign for reelection is that all the tumult Walker has caused was worth it because the state needed shock therapy to revive its economy. And, in fact, the Marquette poll found that, as late as last month, 51% still thought Wisconsin was matching or exceeding the national rate in job growth. But the evidence is mounting that Walker's policies are not working, and as that starts to sink in it could impact the election.
If Gov. Walker goes down in November, it's not likely to be because of illegal campaign collusion or gay marriage or even Act 10. It will be because he just didn't deliver on his most fundamental promise.
Dave Cieslewicz is the former mayor of Madison. He blogs as Citizen Dave.