MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democrat Mary Burke argued during a debate Friday in Wisconsin's hotly contested governor's race that Republican incumbent Scott Walker mismanaged Wisconsin's finances, leading to a projected $1.8 billion budget shortfall, and enacted tax cuts that benefited the wealthy over the middle class.
Walker firmly defended his record, pointing to an unemployment rate that's the lowest it's been since 2008, amid the Great Recession, and the addition of more than 110,000 jobs on his watch.
"Overall, Wisconsin is much better off than it was four years ago," Walker during a debate in Milwaukee 18 days before the election.
Both candidates largely played it safe in their second and final debate, mostly sticking to their talking points and avoiding making any mistakes or new accusations.
Which candidate would be better for Wisconsin's economy is a central part of the race that's attracted national attention both because it's close and because Walker is widely considered to be in the mix for a 2016 presidential run should he win re-election.
The latest Marquette University Law School poll released Wednesday showed the race tied with less than three weeks before the Nov. 4 election. Marquette polls since May have shown the race to be nearly even, other than one on Oct. 1 that showed Walker with a narrow lead.
Burke, a former state Commerce Department secretary and executive at Trek Bicycles, stood behind her jobs plan that she says brings together the best economic development ideas available to come up with an approach that will work for Wisconsin.
Walker attacked her for parts of her plan being identical to proposals put forward by other Democrats across the country. Burke blamed a consultant and cut ties. But Walker has hammered her on the issue, accusing her in television ads of plagiarism.
Burke defended herself in the debate, pointing to Walker's failure to live up to his signature 2010 campaign promise to create 250,000 private-sector jobs over four years.
"Gov. Walker is just trying to distract from his own jobs failure," Burke said. "We are not doing the things necessary to make sure Wisconsin has a growing, thriving economy."
Walker noted that the state lost 133,000 jobs before he took office and said he aimed big when coming up with the 250,000 target.
"While we're not done yet, we've come a long way — over 100,000 new jobs in over the three years we've been in office," he said.
Walker has touted the roughly $2 billion in tax cuts he's signed into law the past four years, while Burke argues that's contributed to the projected shortfall.
"We have to be honest with the people of Wisconsin," Burke said. "Under Gov. Walker, we have spent money we don't have."
This is Burke's first statewide campaign. Walker is appearing on the ballot for the third time in four years, having successfully defeated a recall in 2012 spurred by anger over his measure that took away collective bargaining power from most public workers.
That issue didn't come up in the debate.
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