Two top Wisconsin political strategists pondered the existence of the "Walker-Baldwin voter" at a Thursday night WisPolitics event forecasting the upcoming election.
Although such a voter would be like a "unicorn," Republican strategist Keith Gilkes said he thinks some Wisconsin voters will cast their ballots for Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin in November.
Gilkes, a longtime campaign adviser to Gov. Scott Walker, said he feels good about Walker's standing as he seeks a third term because Walker "believes there’s a compelling story about how he has reformed Wisconsin." Voters might disagree, Gilkes said, but they know he follows through on what he says he will do.
Both Gilkes and veteran Democratic strategist Tanya Bjork agreed that Baldwin is well positioned to win a second term in the Senate, although Gilkes said he believes a Republican candidate can be competitive if the party learns from mistakes it made in 2012, when Baldwin was poised to pounce when former Gov. Tommy Thompson emerged from a bruising GOP primary.
"I have a lot of respect for her," Gilkes said, adding that Baldwin works hard and makes smart policy choices, for example supporting removing the gray wolf from protections under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Bjork conceded that Walker will be "hard to beat," but also questioned whether he is prepared to fend off the forces of a Democratic wave.
"If you are going to survive a wave you have to be well on top of it," Bjork said, noting that Walker's job approval rating in last month's Marquette University Law School poll was evenly split at 47-47.
While it won't be a "slam dunk," for Democrats, Bjork said, "I do think we will end up with a top-tier candidate who could give Walker and (Republicans) a run for your money."
The Democratic gubernatorial field is wide open at this point, Bjork said, but the "top tier" — which she defined as most of the candidates who have hired staff — is locked up. The perception of a coming "blue wave" has also helped Democrats recruit strong candidates for the state Legislature, she said.
Asked specifically about the prospects of Madison Mayor Paul Soglin in the governor's race, Bjork said she doesn't see a path for him to set himself apart from the field and raise the money needed to compete.
Marquette poll director Charles Franklin said current polling doesn't offer much in the way of a prediction of how either the gubernatorial or Senate races will go.