Why Doyle Could Lose

He’s an incumbent governor. A Democrat in a blue state. So it wouldn’t make sense to bet against Jim Doyle winning a third term as Wisconsin’s chief executive, right? But with the November 2010 election on the political horizon, there are signs of some potential trouble for Doyle.

For the record, I am not talking about Tommy Thompson’s regular cat-and-mouse game with the media about whether he’ll run again. We all know he’s not remotely serious and just does it for fun.

The upcoming campaign for governor is likely to focus on the economy. Wisconsin is experiencing its highest unemployment since the early 1980s and it’s unlikely conditions will turn around fast enough to take the topic entirely off the table.

Just this spring, Doyle’s approval rating hit forty-five percent—an all-time low since he was first elected in 2002. Meanwhile, President Obama is enjoying strong public support and shows no signs of losing it (though it probably helps that he gives much better speeches).

The first chance voters will get to register their opinion on the government’s response to our economic meltdown is 2010. Obama won’t be on the ballot, but Doyle will. Without some kind of turnaround, the governor could find himself on the defensive against the man or woman the GOP fields.

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, the first Republican to officially declare his candidacy, made criticism of Doyle’s handling of the economy a key part of his announcement tour. It’s a good thing for Doyle that he has some time to make the case to voters.

Lately, it seems his administration has gotten more attention for missteps like spending more than a quarter of a million dollars to create a new state tourism slogan—“Live like you mean it”—that pretty much generated a collective “meh” from experts and Wisconsinites alike.

Also working against Doyle is one thing making his life easier at the moment. Democrats control both houses of the Legislature, putting Doyle’s party in charge of writing the state budget (including fixing a huge shortfall) and any other major legislation he signs before the next election.

If voters don’t like what they’ve done, they could decide getting rid of the sitting governor is the quickest way to make a change.

It may not be fair to blame any governor for economic woes, but that doesn’t mean voters won’t do it.

Jenny Price is a Madison native who covered the state Capitol for the Associated Press and has written about Wisconsin politics for a decade. E-mail her at jenny.price@gmail.com.

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