Mary Burke: DPW Sugar Mama

Last week I juxtaposed Mary Burke’s history of philanthropy and entrepreneurism with her misplaced liberal politics, and wondered if her heart is in the governor’s race or if she’s pandering to get elected. Over the weekend, fortuitously, a Youtube video and a Journal Sentinel profile worked in tandem to support the latter argument.

The first indication that her campaign is entirely phony came through contradictory statements and positions on Act 10 and collective bargaining. Now, discussion about her jobs plan helps prove the argument.

Here’s the video:

You can read the whole JSOnline profile here.

The Burke faithful are desperate for any candidate that’s not Scott Walker. Per supporter Deb Stover, “You can tell talking to her in less than five minutes how much more she knows about job creation than our current governor.” Ms. Stover knows something the rest of us can only guess at. At once Ms. Burke is knowledgable at job creation without having presented a plan to grow the number of jobs in Wisconsin.

That Ms. Burke acknowledges it’s still early in the race, and will be rolling out a jobs plan later, speaks precisely to her unctuous politics-only campaign strategy. If she were the gather-all-ideas free-minded darling she claims to be, she’d be entering a race because she has the solutions to make the state a better place, not focus-grouping and workshopping her talking points. While it’s a reality that this game is part of a winning campaign strategy — one that Republicans are notoriously terrible at executing — it’s phony for Ms. Burke to play it. Worse, it’s a bad strategy. If the crux of her campaign thesis is that she’s better qualified to create jobs than Scott Walker, that should be her message from the start. She certainly can’t run on being a Woman of the People, and though she’s expressed support for collective bargaining rights, she’s also acknowledged that public employees should have to pay more equitably into their benefits; while that will be a point of debate and discussion, it — mercifully — won’t be the centerpiece of the election. If Ms. Burke had an effective, results-oriented jobs plan, especially one more pragmatic than the solutions offered by the Walker Administration, she would dust it off now to draw contrasts with the current policies she deems failures. But Ms. Burke can not simultaneously toe the Democrat Party line in Wisconsin and be realistic about improving the state’s economy.

Such a balancing act helps explain the campaign’s hiring of lefty image-shaper Anne Lewis’ shop. It will take little work for the right to portray Ms. Burke as an entitled beneficiary of nepotism, skilled only in philanthropically spending her family’s money, even if the causes are noble. Facebook posts about hitting the campaign trail across the state or rooting on the Packers are, as of now, the only tools in her arsenal, and are reaching a limited audience. Once the advertising game starts, it will be interesting to see the persona she adopts. (In fact, the profile takes pains to point out that, during their interview at a coffee shop, she remained unrecognized, and how that would likely change after TV spots start running.) For someone who has, at least among friends and her pet causes, shirked the limelight, suddenly being thrust onto TV screens for five months will be a dramatic change.

The candidate appears to be aware that she’s very much out of her comfort zone. Speaking to Mr. Glauber, she practically apologizes for building a campaign machine:

“I need to be the candidate and I need to get out around Wisconsin and make sure people have a chance to know me and that I have an opportunity to hear what issues are important to them,” Burke says. “To do that, I need to have campaign staff that I trust and that I delegate the running of the operation to.”

This must have come from the introduction to Chapter 3 of “Democrats’ Guide to Getting Elected”:

You need to focus on being the candidate. Get around your constituency and make sure people have a chance to get to know you. Take it as an opportunity to hear what issues are important to them. But in order to do that, you heed to have a campaign staff you trust and can delegate the running of the operation to.

Either she has become an authority on electoral politics, or she is being aggressively coached, combed and refined by the Democrat Party of Wisconsin. I want to know when the decision was made she would be anointed the Party Favorite for 2014 — and why. It’s likely her previously moderate politics played into the anointing. The crop of 2012 recall candidates underwhelmed the electorate. Having been out of the limelight, YouTube doesn’t have an extensive archive of cringeworthy moments to expose or manipulate. And she’s part of a wealthy family – ka-ching!

Democrats campaigned against Mr. Walker’s national rockstar status in Republican politics, giving him access to millions of campaign-fund dollars that an unknown Democrat like Ms. Burke will never find anywhere outside her own sofa cushions. To win a municipal board seat in Madison last year, Ms. Burke broke a record for spending, writing checks for nearly $100,000. She said it was in response to Madison Teachers Inc. stepping up for her opponent to the tune of $7,000. Apparently she missed the bit about proportionate response in Just War Theory.

The move could also explain her slightly-less-than-slobbering opinions on public employee benefits, feeling crossed by the teachers union:

Burke said she made the decision to spend so much after hearing from supportive teachers who didn’t want to publicly support her because they didn’t want to cross their union. She also said while many campaigns rely on volunteers, she could afford to pay her staff.

If spending on the governor’s race in 2014 is at least on par with the recall, Mr. Walker will raise just over $30 million. Twelve times that — the kind of money Ms. Burke spends to win elections — would take her to presidential campaign-spending levels circa 1792. It’s a given Ms. Burke will lose the money war, but will certainly make up ground from her own fortunes.

She is the only candidate the party could find with access to substantial personal cash. The governor’s mansion is just another step in her varied career. It’s the perfect pairing for a frustrated, and losing, state Democrat party.

About the writer: Nik Nelson is publisher of and Founder/CEO of OpenBox Strategies, where he connects political candidates and small businesses with excellent digital marketing tools and strategies.