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Pros And Cons of Democratic Primary for Governor


A Democratic primary is shaping up for Wisconsin governor. So far, four Democrats have declared their intention to run.This week, state Rep. Brett Hulsey of Madison announced his intention to challenge Trek Executive Mary Burke in August.

She’s been viewed as the party front runner. Two political newcomers have also tossed their hats into the ring – Marcia Mercedes Perkins and Hariprasad Trivedi.

Rep. Hulsey’s entrance into the Democratic chase surprised UW-Stevens Point Political Science Professor Dennis Riley. He assumed Mary Burke would not have a significant primary challenger. Riley thinks the Assemblyman might appeal more to the Democratic base because of his calls to reinvest more than $2 billion in clean energy projects and in public schools.

“He does have some much more aggressive ideas about the Wisconsin economy and restoring it, more aggressive ideas about helping lower middle class citizens and he probably would have a chance, without some of his background issues, of establishing more of a connection with that segment of Democratic voters than Mary Burke does,” Riley says.

The background issues Riley alludes to include at least one highly publicized run-in with the law, and questionable use of campaign money.

Hulsey also has a reputation for raising eyebrows. Just since announcing his candidacy, he’s outlined plans to challenge Burke to a debate in each county. If she declines, Hulsey says he’ll have someone in a chicken suit follow her around, wearing a t-shirt that reads, Too Chicken to be Governor.

Most Democrats, though, will probably want to avoid discord, according to Michael Kraft, a political scientist at UW-Green Bay.

“I would think the party would have the best chance of taking on the governor in the general election in the fall, if the party comes to that election with a united front and a strong commitment," Kraft says. "Primaries can be divisive, so on the negative side, having a primary could weaken whoever ends up winning the primary."

On the positive side, Mordecai Lee, a professor of Governmental Affairs at UW-Milwaukee, foresees a Democratic primary strengthening its victor. He says primaries can generate exposure for the winning candidate and show what needs tending.

“Sometimes one needs to have a test case of one’s campaign organization especially one’s get-out-the-vote campaign, to see if it works or not, to see where the weaknesses are, to see who performs well or doesn’t perform well,” Lee says.

Lee perceives Burke as having tremendous advantages at this time over Democratic rivals because she has been viewed as the establishment candidate, has funding and a big head start. If Burke wins her party’s primary on August 12, he says it will also put the idea in voters’ heads that she’s a winner.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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