Wisconsin Democrats finally have a challenger for Republican Gov. Scott Walker in next year's election.
Mary Burke, a former executive for Trek Bicycle Corp. and daughter of the company's founder, announced Monday in a web video that she intends to run against Walker.
For months, Democrats have recruited Burke to run, hoping her business background would instantly make Walker's performance as a job creator an issue. The Republican successfully won his race in 2010 on a promise to create 250,000 jobs in his first term, a threshold he has little chance of reaching in the next 12 months.
"Helping to turn my family's business into a global company has been a big part of my life," Burke says in her video. "Now I'd like to help make our great state of Wisconsin even better as your governor."
Burke served as the state's commerce secretary under former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. Her only experience as an elected official is the Madison, Wis., school board seat she won last year.
Republican Governors Association Executive Director Phil Cox called Burke a "sacrificial lamb" and immediately criticized her ties to Doyle, a two-term governor who preceded Walker.
"Burke’s candidacy is sure to rely on the tax-and-spend model of governing that plagued Wisconsin for years before Gov. Scott Walker stepped in to clean up the mess that Burke helped create," Cox said.
Walker's re-election bid will be one of the most closely watched political contests of 2014, when 36 states will hold gubernatorial elections. The Republican leader has amassed a strong following for his conservative record and has traveled to most of the early primary states, suggesting that a bid for the presidency in 2016 may be on the horizon. Winning a second term would be critical to a serious run for the Republican nomination.
But that task will be made difficult in a highly polarized environment. Walker's push to curb collective bargaining powers in 2011 may have won him a national following, but it has divided Wisconsin. A July survey from Marquette Law School Poll put Walker's job approval at 48 percent, with 46 percent disapproving.
Burke, however, has little name recognition outside the Madison area, already a liberal stronghold for Democrats. And Walker's successful bid to stave off a recall election two years ago not only gave him political momentum but also put him in front of all the big Republican donors, who ponied up large sums of money to help him win. Walker has about $2 million on hand for next year's fight, according to July filings.
Burke has personal wealth and chipped in more than $100,000 of her own money to win her school board race last year. She also has the backing of the party establishment. State Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate recently told a Wisconsin radio station that Burke was "someone I hope will run for governor because I think she could present just an absolutely phenomenal alternative to where Scott Walker's taking this state."