MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Labor unions exerted some muscle Thursday in the Democratic primary race for Wisconsin governor, announcing a $1 million advertising blitz and rallying around their endorsed candidate, Kathleen Falk.
A group supported by the statewide teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, as well as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees announced it was buying $1 million of television, cable and online advertising time beginning Friday and running through May 7, the day before the primary.
The group, Wisconsin for Falk, has already spent about $3 million. But its ads had been off the air for more than a week, bolstering the belief that Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett had established himself as the clear front-runner in the Democratic race. Polls also show him ahead and other attack ads from Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his supporters are focused only on Barrett.
The new Falk ad, running in La Crosse, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Wausau and Madison, doesn't mention Barrett or the other two Democrats running. Instead, it attacks Walker and his policies that led to the recall effort.
Union members and other backers of Falk's campaign rallied around her at a news conference in the state Capitol, saying she has the credentials to defeat Walker in the June 5 recall race. The recall was largely motivated by Walker's law passed last year effectively ending most union rights for public workers.
Falk won union support after promising to veto any state budget that doesn't restore collective bargaining rights. Barrett refused to make such a pledge.
Barrett spokesman Phil Walzak said despite the barrage of negative ads, "the polls show Tom is the consensus favorite of the people to take on Scott Walker."
Falk and representatives of numerous unions — including WEAC, AFSCME, the Sierra Club, Emily's List and the American Federation of Teachers — said they would get out the vote through phone banks, mailings and word of mouth to deliver a victory. Wisconsin For Falk said it was using its 18 field offices across the state to drive voter turnout.
"With such a big tent, with all these grass-roots groups supporting her, we know she can't lose," said Shahla Werner of the Sierra Club.
Falk said Walker opponents have continually proved naysayers wrong by sustaining large protests against Walker's collective bargaining proposal last year, forcing six recall elections of Republican state senators last year, and collecting roughly 1.7 million signatures on recall petitions targeting Walker and five other Republicans this year.
"Now they're saying a candidate can't win who's backed by labor," Falk said.
Barrett, speaking at a news conference at the Milwaukee headquarters of wind-turbine manufacturer Ingeteam, said he "absolutely" has the grass-roots network to beat Falk. He also implied that he's already looking past the primary to the June election.
"I'm focusing on Scott Walker," he said, blasting the governor's record on job creation.
Walker promised in 2010, when he beat Barrett by 5 percentage points, that he would create 250,000 private sector jobs in Wisconsin over four years. Fifteen months in, there are only 5,900 new private sector jobs and the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this week that Wisconsin lost more jobs than any other state during the past 12 months.
Rather than uphold his job-creation promise, Walker instead focused on an ideological agenda, Barrett said. The mayor pledged that if elected he would be the one to create jobs, in part by investing in wind power and other clean-energy technology.
Walker's campaign issued a statement criticizing Barrett's record of job creation in Milwaukee. The metropolitan area lost 4,400 jobs in March, and the city has one of the worst unemployment rates in the state.
"Wisconsinites can't afford to let Mayor Barrett take us backward by spreading his abysmal record on job creation to the rest of the state," Walker spokeswoman Ciara Matthews said.
Barrett countered that many of Milwaukee's current problems also existed when Walker was the Milwaukee County executive, before he won the governor's office in 2010. But Walker stays conveniently silent about his tenure in that position, Barrett said.
Ramde, who contributed to this report from Milwaukee, can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.