The first real political dustup of the 2010 Wisconsin gubernatorial race is in the books, and the winner was Republican Scott Walker, although there are sure to be many more rounds to follow.
Walker’s campaign seized the moment last weekend when the northbound bridge on U.S. 45 through the Marquette Interchange was closed after inspections revealed some structural weaknesses.
Next thing you know, the “Barrett Bypass” was born. The Walker campaign quickly tied the bridge closure and the ensuing traffic jams to his Democratic opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
Walker pointed to a letter Barrett had written five years ago, advocating against funding for a preliminary engineering study for the expansion of the Zoo Interchange.
The “money quote” for Walker in Barrett’s letter was the final sentence, which stated, “Unlike the Marquette Interchange, the Zoo Interchange will stand long enough for us to resolve these issues.”
Walker’s campaign then created a dedicated web site (www.barrettbypass.com) and followed up by buying signage on electronic billboards greeting motorists at Interstate 94/Highwy 100 and on Highway 45/Silver Spring just north of the Zoo interchange. The signs read, “Tired of Traffic? Blame Barrett.” The signs have a captive audience of motorists fuming over the traffic delays.
“It is amazing that Governor Doyle and Mayor Barrett can advocate spending $810 million on a new ‘high-speed’ rail line while the state government cannot even fix one of the busiest interchanges in Wisconsin. Years of raiding the Transportation Fund and years of Milwaukee politicians like the Mayor fighting work on the East-West corridor have now led to a crisis that will have a negative impact on commerce,” Walker said.
Never mind, of course, that the Zoo Interchange is in Walker’s Milwaukee County and not even in Barrett’s City of Milwaukee. And never mind that the decisions to rebuild the Marquette Interchange and Interstate 94 south to the Illinois border ahead of the Zoo Interchange were made by Doyle, not Barrett.
In politics, style can out-trump substance, and perception can become reality. Despite the factual disconnect, Walker succeeded in tagging Barrett with the crumbling of the Zoo Interchange.
Barrett’s counterpunch about the “Walker Waffle” failed to land. The Barrett campaign also countered with its own dedicated web site, www.barrettforwisconsin.com/zoo, which includes a short video about “The Walker Freeway Fabrication.”
In Madison, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin is demanding that Walker respond to the “Rape, Starvation, Drug Overdoses” happening in the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division.
Meanwhile, the “other” Republican in the gubernatorial race, former Congressman Mark Neumann, continues to try to get his name in the conversation, but Walker and Barrett seem to be soaking up most of the oxygen in the room.
The Neumann camp said this week that a recent poll indicated their guy now out-polls Barrett by a greater margin than Walker does.
“Scott Walker has been on a down-hill slide since January. His once ten-point lead over Barrett has shrunk to three percent and falling,” the Neumann campaign pointed out.
Buckle up, folks. This is going to be a long, bruising, nasty ride. As the Zoo Interchange episode showed us, we’ll need to play close attention to the details to stay on top of the truth.
Furthermore, once the outside dollars really start pouring in, the voices of the special interests will ring louder and even nastier than those of the candidates themselves.
Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.