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Analysts: What Walker and Burke Need to Do to Rally Voters Before Election Day

There will be at least a couple big campaign events in Milwaukee in coming days, with President Obama and former president Bill Clinton scheduled to visit.

Yet those events probably won’t sway the important and elusive “undecided” voters, according to J.R. Ross, of WisPolitics.com. He says that’s not the goal, anyway; it’s to rev up supporters.

“It’s more about free media attention, getting your people jazzed up. It’s also about who’s going to go make that call: ‘On Saturday afternoon, I’m not going to watch the Badger game, I’m going to go sit in some office in La Crosse all day long, and make phone calls to people. I’m going to put a yard sign out, I’m going to knock on doors.’ It’s all kinds of little pieces of the puzzle for a campaign,” Ross says.

Ross spoke at a Milwaukee Press Club forum Wednesday. He says Walker will rely on die-hard supporters on Election Day, as he seeks his second four-year term.

“He needs the base to turn out. Get the base to turn out, and not irritate that slim sliver in the middle that isn’t sure about him. You notice, he doesn’t talk about abortion these days. He does not want to talk about it at all, because he knows that’s an issue that does not sit well, with suburban women especially, who maybe voted for him before, but aren’t so sure this time,” Ross says.

Ross says Walker isn’t taking anything for granted. He’s visiting Republican field offices, telling party members the race will be close -- so he needs them to vote.

The Democrat in the race, Mary Burke, faces a different challenge, according to Craig Gilbert, who also participated in the forum. Gilbert is the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Washington Bureau chief. Gilbert says in order to win, Burke must make a strong showing in rural areas. Walker claimed them in 2010, and in the 2012 recall election. Both were races against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

“Democrats have to be competitive with rural voters to win, I mean, they can’t just rely on these big turnouts in Milwaukee and Madison, they have to do more than that, and they do well when they’re competitive with rural voters like Barack Obama was, so I think Mary Burke certainly needs to do better with rural voters than Tom Barrett did, but she has a chance to do that, partly because she’s not the mayor of Milwaukee,” Gilbert says.

Gilbert says one factor will likely play a bigger role in the race than either candidate’s strategy. It’s the strong sentiment many voters have about Walker. Gilbert says feelings for and against the governor linger. In 2011, Walker stripped away most public union rights.

“The level of division in the state, the degree to which the state is evenly divided, how entrenched public opinion is about Scott Walker – if you were to kind of create or imagine a set of conditions in which the impact of the campaign would be really, really marginal, this would be it,” Gilbert says.

In Gilbert’s opinion, the contest remains too close to call. He says one new poll has Burke up by one point. Another puts Walker in the lead, by the same slim majority.

Ann-Elise is WUWM's news director.
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