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Burke, Hulsey Square Off in Wisconsin's Democratic Primary for Governor

The winner will take on Republican incumbent Scott Walker in November.

Tuesday is Primary Election Day in Wisconsin.

In statewide races, Republicans will select the candidates they want vying for Treasurer and Secretary of State, but there is no GOP primary for Governor. Incumbent Scott Walker is unopposed.

On the Democratic side, voters will pick their preferred candidate for Attorney General, and for whom they want challenging Walker, in November.

Former Trek Executive Mary Burke has been considered the front runner. Yet, a lesser-financed Democrat, Assemblyman Brett Hulsey of Madison, may capture some votes.

Former state Commerce Secretary Mary Burke announced her bid for governor last October. State party leaders backed her, and began introducing her across Wisconsin.

Financial reports show Burke raised $500,000 in July alone, and well-funded groups such as Emily’s List have thrown their support behind her. Burke has said little about the primary, and has instead focused on the general election in November.

“Certainly the primary is something that I need to win, but it hasn’t changed my strategy. I’m focused on making sure the people of Wisconsin get to know me,” Burke says.

When asked if she wished her Democratic opponent, Brett Hulsey, had not entered the race, Burke has been diplomatic.

“It’s everyone’s individual decision whether they decide to run or not, and I’m not going to judge on that,” Burke says.

Madison Representative Hulsey entered the race late, announcing his bid only a few months ago. He seemed to riddle the early days of his campaign with stunts.

For instance, he challenged Burke to debate him in all 72 counties. When she didn’t respond, Hulsey threatened to send somebody in a chicken suit to Burke campaign events, inferring she was too “chicken” to debate him.

Hulsey garnered even more attention when he said he would hand out KKK-style hoods outside the state Republican convention in Milwaukee this past spring. He changed his mind, and instead showed up dressed as a confederate soldier, to protest what he calls the GOP’s racist policies. Several delegates confronted Hulsey.

Leaders of both parties condemned Hulsey’s behavior, yet he says, he has no regrets.

“Suddenly, people are paying attention. Sometimes you have to bump it up to get the white corporate press’s attention to cover racism, because people don’t want to talk about baby death rates worse than Botswana in Milwaukee, because it’s embarrassing,” Hulsey says.

Hulsey calls himself the “real Democrat” in the race for governor and makes bold promises. He says on his first day in office, he would introduce a measure to repeal Act 10, Gov. Walker’s bill that dismantled public employee unions.

Hulsey also vows to end Gogebic Taconite’s plans to build an iron mine south of Lake Superior, and instead, build a state park on the land. State party leaders – including Chairman Mike Tate, have dismissed Hulsey’s candidacy.

“I’m not the least bit concerned about gadfly candidates that are out there for publicity stunts,” Tate says.

Even though party leaders have denounced him, Charles Franklin thinks Hulsey might garner a smattering of votes. The professor directs the Marquette Law School Poll. Franklin thinks Hulsey’s progressive stand on issues might appeal to some Democrats.

“I think it’s still possible that since his name is on the ballot, it’s an opportunity for any Democrats who are not happy with the Burke campaign to cast a protest vote there,” Franklin says.

Yet Franklin says it would be difficult for Hulsey to topple Burke in the primary, because he’s not well known. In May, Franklin’s poll showed 88 percent of respondents could not identify Hulsey, plus, he doesn’t have a lot of campaign money. He raised only $2,500 during the first half of the year.

As for other votes Hulsey might collect in Tuesday’s primary, Franklin does not expect many to be from Republicans. Marquette’s polling indicates voters have little interest in crossing-over to the other party, just to create mischief.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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