By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON, Wis. – If Democrats see the seemingly endless John Doe investigations as a big gun in their political arsenal against Gov. Scott Walker, the latest poll numbers suggest this not-so-secret weapon isn’t hitting the mark.
Mike Tate and crew at the Democratic Party of Wisconsin haven’t merely been rooting for bombshell revelations against Walker in the secret probes, they’ve been using the investigations as one of their major narratives this election year.
“You can assume they’re finding serious acts of wrongdoing,” Tate, the chippy chairman of the state Dems, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Dan Bice in November, following news the Democrat-led Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office had launched another John Doe into conservatives.
“Every released document has only served to reinforce that Walker has been aware of this criminal activity since at least May of 2010,” Tate told reporters at a Democratic Party news conference last month.
The presser was held on the same day a Milwaukee County judge released thousands of emails of a former aide to Walker when Walker was Milwaukee County executive. Kelly Rindfleisch in 2012 was convicted on a felony charge for campaigning for a GOP lieutenant governor candidate on government time — part of the Milwaukee County DA’s first politically charged John Doe probe spanning nearly three years.
And while investigators found no wrongdoing by Walker, nor have any charges been brought against the Republican governor in the latest court-administered dragnet, that fact is inconsequential to the Democratic Party narrative.
“We`re going to see where this investigation goes. We’ll see what unfolds,” Tate told Fox6 News in Milwaukee following the release of the Rindfleisch emails. As the TV station noted, “Tate believes the court of public opinion won’t be so kind” to Walker.”
But the court of public opinion, it seems, has been little moved by the politically charged investigations and the storyline liberal partisans have created.
The latest Marquette Law School poll, released Wednesday, shows Walker’s lead on presumptive Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mary Burke in the run-up to Wisconsin gubernatorial race in November has crept up a percentage point, to 48 percent to 41 percent. Walker led Burke, a wealthy Madison liberal and Commerce Secretary under former Democrat Gov. Jim Doyle, 47 percent to 41 percent in the law school’s last poll in January.
The poll of 801 Wisconsin registered voters was conducted by cell phone and landline March 20-23, a month after the release of Rindfleisch’s emails, which proved somewhat embarrassing for Walker and his associates but showed no evidence of illegal activity by Walker.
The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percent.
Marquette political science professor John McAdams said politically polarized Wisconsin isn’t moving much, and the partisan chatter surrounding the latest John Doe investigation isn’t moving the meter at all.
“An arcane doctrine about (campaign) coordination that’s legal anyway is not going to affect the outcome of the election,” McAdams said.
The latest probe, launched by Democrat Milwaukee County DA John Chisholm’s office in August 2012, has been digging for evidence on a theory of illegal coordination between several conservative organizations and Walker’s campaign during Wisconsin’s unprecedented recall elections in 2011 and ’12, sources say. The investigation has spread to five counties.
John Doe II, as it has been billed, has included pre-dawn raids at homes and offices and, as in the first secret probe, comes with a gag order prohibiting those involved from speaking publicly. Violators could face jail time.
That has not stopped conservative activist Eric O’Keefe and his Wisconsin Club for Growth, one of the groups targeted in the investigation, from filing a civil rights lawsuit against Chisholm, two of his assistant DAs, the special prosecutor in the probe and a shadowy investigator.
O’Keefe alleges the probe is nothing more than a partisan attack on his First and 14h Amendment rights.
Walker’s been down this road before.
In the 2012 partisan recall campaign against Walker, bankrolled in large part by the big labor unions that despise the governor for his reforms to Wisconsin’s public-sector collective bargaining laws, liberal speculation ran rampant about looming charges against the Republican.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Bice in an April 2012 piece proclaimed it “the biggest question hanging over Gov. Scott Walker’s recall election: Will Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm file additional criminal charges as part of his John Doe probe before the June 5 election?”
The answer: No. Additional charges, much to the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s chagrin, didn’t materialize before or after the June 2012 election, in which Walker beat Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in a rematch of the 2010 general election by an easy 7 percentage points.
McAdams sees the same story playing out in 2014. If Walker is going to be vulnerable, something’s going to have to stick.
“You would have to have a serious ethical breach by Walker to have stuck,” the political scientist said. “And it has to be provable.”
In other words, it is increasingly unlikely John Doe will decide the race between Scott Walker and Burke.
And, according to the Marquette Law School poll, voters have stayed pretty consistent so far, with 54 percent of respondents saying the state is headed in the right direction, compared to 42 percent who believe it’s on the wrong track. That’s little changed from January’s 54-40 percent split.
Walker’s favorability rating remained at 49 percent, and he was seen as unfavorable by 47 percent of respondents. Wisconsin voters, no matter where they stand, are well aware of Scott Walker.
Not so much for Mary Burke, who was viewed favorably by 19 percent and unfavorably by 22 percent of the poll’s respondents. The vast majority of those polled have little or no idea who Mary Burke is.
McAdams said the race in many ways isn’t even between Walker and Burke; it’s between Walker and the anti-Walker candidate, a candidate good enough for opponents of Scott Walker. But will the “antis” be enough to tip the election to Mary Burke?
Contact M.D. Kittle at firstname.lastname@example.org