Mary Burke is already winning the 'invisible primary'

2013-11-26T08:30:00Z Mary Burke is already winning the 'invisible primary'JACK CRAVER | The Capital Times | jcraver@madison.com madison.com

A fair number of progressives in traditional media and the blogosphere have bemoaned the fact that Mary Burke is so far the only Democratic candidate for governor in Wisconsin.

Some complain because they don’t like Burke, but others simply argue that no candidate -- especially a political newcomer -- should be spared a competitive primary.

“For a lightly experienced candidate like Burke, going into a general election against Walker without a primary would be like the Packers facing their first regular season opponent without a training camp,” wrote former Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz in September.

However, in some ways, Burke has already won what political scientists John Sides and Lynn Vavreck call an “invisible primary,” a process by which a candidate seeks support from political leaders before making his or her case to the voters. The objective, they argue, is for a party to “consolidate support behind a single candidate, ideally before the primaries even take place.”

In their recent book, “The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election,” the two professors describe the apparent chaos that was last year’s Republican presidential primary as the result of no candidate being the clear winner behind the scenes. The relatively small number of endorsements from party leaders handed out before the primaries began was evidence of this.

“The number and pace of endorsements through 2011 demonstrated just how different this nomination process was than many others, as well as how seemingly unenthusiastic Republican leaders were about all of the candidates," they write.

The months of behind-the-scenes preparation that Burke engaged in before declaring her candidacy got her a number of key “invisible primary” victories, most prominently the all-but-declared backing of the state Democratic Party, which the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported was helping Burke prepare her bid in July.

Within weeks of announcing, Burke had earned the endorsements of top liberal groups such as Progressives United and Planned Parenthood. Similarly, although few even considered Burke a potential candidate as recently as six months ago, Democratic elected officials were eagerly making the case for the Madison school board member soon after she launched the campaign in October.

“I think it’s really an exciting day,” said state Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, reacting to Burke’s announcement last month. “I think she really brings a lot to the table.”

Just as important, she scared off potential competitors, notably Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris, who in a statement describing his decision not to run noted that he would not have the resources to compete with Burke, a multimillionaire.

State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, may still join the race. If she does, she will be the underdog, not only because she lacks Burke’s money, but because Burke has spent months winning the “invisible primary.”

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(22) Comments

  1. Hogzilla
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    Hogzilla - November 29, 2013 11:24 pm
    I like the way you guys talk. It's neat to find people that are astute enough to understand where we came from.

    I may not agree with you on current events, but it is is important to at least have a good base of knowledge to work with.

    Koala, I don't want public servants to work for "next to nothing". All I want is fairness.
  2. Gretna Green
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    Gretna Green - November 27, 2013 12:44 pm
    MagnusP, Go get a religion. If you need to be inspired by speeches and sermons, you need a spiritual home. Politics is not a religion. Mary Burke is a very smart, capable woman who can do the work that needs to be done right now in Wisconsin. We need a smart executive this time around. We can elect a fiery brimstone governor another day. Any politician that simply spews out "answers" is not knowledgeable at all. That is my biggest gripe with Vinehout. She is all talk and not very savvy, smart or wise. If she were wise, she would get on board with Mary Burke and get a plum job as head of Health and Human Services. She is perfect for that role in this national environment. But she wants the limelight, not the work.
  3. Gretna Green
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    Gretna Green - November 27, 2013 12:34 pm
    Norwood, Good points. You also might add that Democrats' bench is pretty shallow because Sen. Russ Decker self-imploded by taking a crazy stand against the state employees as a swipe at Gov. Doyle. It was a totally self-centered, insular and unhelpful little scene at the end of the Doyle administration. It was not the act of someone really concerned about working people in the bigger picture. He was a long-time union supporter in the legislature and would have made a fine gubernatorial candidate in this circumstance. He would have been a superstar of the protests. In fact, coming from Marathon County, he would have beat Walker in the recall if he had not committed political suicide for what personal end I do not know. That is the Shakespearean element of the situation the Democrats are in. Any candidate who says they want to "repeal Act 10" is, in fact, endorsing the QEO because that part of the law is restored if Act 10 is repealed. How simpleminded can people be. At least Mary Burke is savvy enough to understand we start where we ARE not where we WERE. Psst: GET IT??? We could have a clean chalkboard. The QEO had outlived its day. That whole piece needs to be revamped. Simply repealing Act 10 is to say you want to restore the QEO. The whole law needs to be rejiggered. So if any candidate says they want to "repeal Act 10" and then says, "Well, no, I would not keep the QEO..." Then they are not really repealing. They can't make a bombastic statement and then tinker around. Mary Burke is honest and smart by keeping her options open.
  4. timbo
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    timbo - November 27, 2013 8:23 am
    “invisible”? More like imaginary. Burke’s entry short-circuited that when she threw her head into the ring. Wait, did I say “head? I meant hat. LOL. Walker is just as vulnerable today as he was in 2012. And Burke begins with a ‘B’, just like Barrett.
  5. RichardSRussell
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    RichardSRussell - November 27, 2013 12:09 am
    I'd say this is only tangentially true. She has no experience as an elected official in a partisan office (her school-board seat is non-partisan), and being a millionaire is certainly what seems to be her main qualification, but that's not quite the same as "none" or "only".
  6. RichardSRussell
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    RichardSRussell - November 26, 2013 9:38 pm
    Washington was not only wealthy, he was probably the wealthiest person ever to serve as US president. Here's a list of all 44 of them, with reasonable estimates of what their peak net worth would be in 2010 dollars.

    And let's not kid ourselves that the Founders were dirt-under-the-fingernail small-d democrats. Jefferson was famous for his praise of the sturdy yeoman farmer, but he also threw in "educated" and "self-sufficient". If you didn't own property (or, worse, were cursed with testicular deprivation syndrome), he wasn't all that sure you could be entrusted with a voice in running the government.

    But gradually, thru the years, as we went thru half a dozen Constitutional amendments expanding the franchise, it turned out that we could in fact trust black people, women, some older teenagers, and eventually even the residents of America's last colony, the District of Columbia, to cast ballots without collapsing the Capitol dome on the whole shebang, so now we're pretty heavily committed to the idea that common people can choose their own representatives, they just can't afford to be them. (3 out of 4 US senators are millionaires, for example, and the proportion in the "people's" House is somewhere between 40 and 50%.)

    BTW, that should be George the 3rd, not Richard. (I speak as a Richard myself.) And I seldom tire of pointing out that America has had its very own George the 3rd (after Washington and Bush 41), and he too proved disastrous.
  7. koala
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    koala - November 26, 2013 9:02 pm
    As a lifelong Democrat, I have to agree with you that the state party is lost at sea, bereft of a clear idea of what to stand for and why. By the way, if I were Burke, I'd take tremendous heart in knowing the huge amount of baggage that Walker is carrying, and that true Democratic and progressive principles can be extremely popular with the public.
  8. koala
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    koala - November 26, 2013 8:56 pm
    Let's remember that the main Founding Fathers were hugely rich by the standards of the day, could afford to devote their lives to politics even before there was a United States ... and, of course, stood greatly to be damaged by King Richard III. I'm no Marxist, but facts are facts.

    Washington was one of the richest men in the Colonies ... which no doubt helped him serve for 8 years, the entire length of the Revolutionary War, an act for which we are all forever in his debt. He then served more or less continuously as President of the Constitutional Convention and then for two terms as President. He then retired and was dead in five years.

    Adams was not rich but served continuously in politics and national diplomacy from before the outset of the Revolutionary War, through two terms as VP and one as Prez. He then retired.

    Jefferson was also a very rich man, and involved in politics and diplomacy more or less continuously from before the War until the end of his second term. He didn't really retire, and founded the University of Virginia. He died deep in debt.

    Madison was also well off, and continuously in politics and public service through the end of his second term as the fourth President.

    Finally, Franklin was never hugely rich, but well off from his work as an author, publisher, and inventor. We are forever indebted to him for his long years as a public servant, diplomat, and leading light of both the Enlightment and the foundation of the US.

    So ... let's not criticize the rich if they ***selflessly*** devote themselves to public service.

    Oh, and especially for you Hog ... let's not expect those who are NOT independently wealthy to act as public servants for as close to nothing as you would apparently like.
  9. Norwood44
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    Norwood44 - November 26, 2013 7:05 pm
    Wiprof. Um no. Not really. She has a MBA from Harvard. Worked in exec management in the private sector, worked in the Doyle administration and serves on the Madison School board. So, clearly, your statement is incorrect.
  10. Hogzilla
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    Hogzilla - November 26, 2013 3:55 pm
    Sorry, I made a bunch of grammar errors in that post. :)
  11. Hogzilla
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    Hogzilla - November 26, 2013 3:52 pm
    I think you're right, but I also think this is symptomatic of the larger problem we have as country where being a politician is a viable career choice. I don't believe the founding fathers had this in mind and it was more typical for politicians to have other careers outside of elected service and would convene to make decisions during certain parts of the year.

    I honestly think a lot of politicians go into it because they know there is enormous amounts of money to be made on the backside. Just look at the wealth that so many people generate once they become elected. It's a racket and the rest of us get to fight over the scraps while they laugh all the way to the bank.
  12. Hogzilla
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    Hogzilla - November 26, 2013 3:48 pm
    I think your anger is fine, but I don't think the majority of people in the sate will agree with you, nor do they really care. The left has put the government workers on a pedestal and that doesn't sit well with all the rest of the people that don't work for the government. The public workers aren't all teachers, firemen, and trash collectors(I am not sure how many of the last two the state even employs, they are probably more of a local government's purview). There are also thousands of bureaucrats pushing paper in offices all over the state that provide dubious value for the taxpayers.

    I think the Dem's need to focus on what they would do, instead of who they aren't. Everyone knows about the outrage of the state workers, it was really hard to miss, even for those that normally don't closely follow politics.

    The election will be one by the person that has the best vision and ideas. Scott Walker is incredibly beatable, but he won't go down over another fight brought on by the unions and the outrage of the state workers.
  13. Norwood44
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    Norwood44 - November 26, 2013 3:15 pm
    Yeah. Barrett seemed remarkably detached and disinterested. The think about a primary is that it wastes money the Dems don't have with the reduced union coffers. Burke's hope is new Dem funding resources.
  14. wiprof
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    wiprof - November 26, 2013 1:55 pm
    What do you expect? Burke has very little experience. Her only qualification is being a millionaire.
  15. MagnusP
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    MagnusP - November 26, 2013 1:18 pm
    I agree the Dems have an image and candidate problem but I think it goes deeper than that. I think the problem is actually at the party level. I was totally unimpressed with the effort on behalf of Barrett and they seem to be running the risk of loosing many in their base by pushing the no primary idea.
  16. irisK
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    irisK - November 26, 2013 12:40 pm
    Scott Walker believes there should be a single party controlling the government.
    He thinks the state employees are a big joke, not worth respect.
    Kathleen Vinehout will be beat up because she was one of the "fleebaggers".
    Walker will not remove the recall petitions from the web.
    His theme is the "awful pain and suffering" he endured because of his "reforms", that have "improved" the finances of this state.
    We need an outsider who will be a goalie, against the Republican majority.
  17. RichardSRussell
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    RichardSRussell - November 26, 2013 11:31 am
    One more reason to get money out of politics. Who else but a millionaire could take time off from their regular job more than a year ahead of time to organize a campaign? The only reason this "primary" was invisible is that people who have to work for a living are required to wait for a decent time frame (like, say, the same calendar year as the election) to put the rest of their lives on hold to run for office.
  18. OscarD
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    OscarD - November 26, 2013 11:27 am
    Vinehout authored the "conscience clause" amendment that allows pharmacists to not dispense contraceptives, sorry Kathleen, that's not their job.
  19. Norwood44
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    Norwood44 - November 26, 2013 11:23 am
    Magnus. Good point. But let's be honest about the existing Dem stalwarts. They were diminished by the recall referendum on ACT 10. Not one of the Rockford 14 heroes is running for governor. Why? Because even the Dems know that are spoiled goods. A traditional, pro-union Dem candidate will simply not have a chance against Walker. That is how poorly the Dems have misplayed their hand. All the posters who want Vinehout want ACT 10 rescinded and life to go back to the days when the unions owned the Dems. But that ship has sailed. If you want a chance against Walker you need a private sector Dem with business experience like Burke. There is simply no public union narrative that resonates with the majority of voters. Folks know that the old system was deeply flawed. If you run an old school union supporter you will get the outcome you deserve. It's an electoral death wish. Simple as that.
  20. MagnusP
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    MagnusP - November 26, 2013 9:51 am
    I have heard both Vinehout and Burke speak in small group settings and Burke certainly has not won my invisible primary. Vinehout is far more knowledgeable and doesn't need a bunch of minders to present herself..
  21. Tpartywarrior
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    Tpartywarrior - November 26, 2013 9:20 am
    The real reason Mark Harris did NOT run was the fact that when asked if ACT 10 had any negative effects on services in his county, Harris answered ...."NO".

    Burke is a true 1%er. Who else spends over $128,000 for a local school board race. Who else runs off the Argentina for a year to go snowboarding?
  22. G Gordon
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    G Gordon - November 26, 2013 9:04 am
    Invisible primary? Is that what we're calling it now? I guess that does sound a lot better than autocratic. It gives the faint impression of democracy. Well-coined.
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