Documents were Just Latest Setback for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

Created: 06/20/2014 2:45 PM

It's been a rough four weeks for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
In late May, a poll showed him tied with his largely unknown Democratic challenger for re-election. Two weeks ago, a federal judge overturned the state's ban on same-sex marriage that Walker had loudly supported. And on Friday, he had to defend himself against newly released court documents in which prosecutors put him at the center of a nationwide scheme to evade campaign-finance rules and collaborate illegally with conservative groups, although no charges have been filed.
And that's not all. A federal report released Thursday showed Wisconsin ranked 37th nationally in new-job creation last year, putting a chink in Walker's main argument for another term - that he's improved the state's economy.
But if anyone knows how to survive a political setback, it's Walker.
After all, he is the only governor in U.S. history to win a recall election. The 2012 effort to remove him was launched in reaction to the law passed the previous year that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers, a fight that drew tens of thousands of protesters to the Capitol and made Wisconsin the center of a national battle over union rights.
The latest uproar arose from accusations made by prosecutors in December that were revealed in documents unsealed Thursday.
Republican strategist Mark Graul said those allegations would not hurt Walker in the long run.
"This is going to be another short blip in the continual push" to discredit Walker, Graul said.
Still, with only a small margin of swing voters expected to decide the November election - just 6 percent based on the May poll from Marquette University Law School - even a small shift in the electorate could be significant.
Claude Krawczyk, a Milwaukee attorney who considers himself an independent and has voted for both Republicans and Democrats, said the latest allegations could move undecided voters.
"There might be a few in the middle who might be swayed, and I think that's where this might come into play," he said.
Krawczyk, 53, said he already planned to vote against Walker so the latest revelations won't affect his decision.
The May 21 Marquette poll showed Walker tied with Democrat Mary Burke, a former Trek bicycle executive who is running her first statewide campaign for office. A majority of survey respondents said they didn't know enough about her to form an opinion. Little-known Democratic state Rep. Brett Hulsey is mounting a longshot campaign to challenge Burke.
Walker launched an attack ad against Burke on Friday morning, less than 24 hours after the documents were released. It was his first ad since April.
"With his campaign under siege, it's no surprise that career politician Scott Walker's first move ... is to launch false, negative attacks on a proven job creator," Burke spokesman Joe Zepecki said.
Walker also took to the airwaves, both on national television and on conservative talk radio in Milwaukee. He issued a long statement in which he accused his political opponents of slander and said there was a "media frenzy" to discredit him.
Walker told Fox News there was "no doubt" he's being unfairly attacked.
"The media jumps on this. Some on the left spin this. You've got your detractors out there trying to claim there's something more than there is," he said Friday.
No one has been charged in the investigation, which began in 2012 in secret but was put on hold in May by a federal judge who sided with the conservative Wisconsin Club for Growth and its argument that the probe was a violation of its First Amendment free-speech rights.
Prosecutors allege that Walker and his top operatives illegally coordinated their fundraising and message efforts. Walker's allies have argued in court that none of their activity was illegal, and two judges have sided with them. Prosecutors are appealing.
Spending on the 2012 recall shattered all previous records for campaigns in Wisconsin, with more than $80 million spent by the candidates and outside groups.
"The thing that's made Governor Walker attractive to potential right-wing donors is he's a winner," said liberal activist Scot Ross, director of the group One Wisconsin Now. "But now the nation is seeing at what cost."
But Graul said Walker's fundraising ability won't be hurt at all by the uproar.
"If anything, it should be helpful because it's clear the level of attacks is unprecedented, and those who want to help him will only want to do it more."

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, center, speaks to the media at the Walsh Co. Inc., a Brookfield, Wisconsin, company that makes leather equipment for horse racing and show horses.
Photo: AP/Dinesh Ramde

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