Long Shots, High Stakes

A look at competitive races around the country


A school board member first elected to her post two years ago running neck-and-neck with an incumbent governor with designs on the presidency? That’s how the Wisconsin gubernatorial race looks heading into November.

In 2012, Democrat Mary Burke underwrote ($128,361) her first successful political campaign for the Madison School Board. Today, supporters of her campaign to unseat Governor Scott Walker include teachers’ unions, the United Auto Workers and Emily’s List, the national PAC that funds progressive women candidates.

Burke provided $430,500 in start-up funds for her own campaign, then went on to raise $6 million—more in-state, small-donor contributions than Walker, who is underwritten by the reactionary DeVos family (Amway) and the Koch brothers. Burke is a Harvard MBA, never married and didn’t become a Democrat until she was in her 40s. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that she earned at least $6.8 million between 2008-2012. She retired at 55, still holds stock in the Trek Bicycle Company founded by her father, and ran Trek’s European operations for three years.

If Democrats can raise enough money and define opponents, they win.

Burke has received $43,100 from the UAW and $1.3 million from the state teachers union (contributed through a PAC running ads on her behalf). Unions see her as a credible alternative to Walker, who led a successful legislative campaign against public employees and teachers unions; promoted the most extreme tort-reform package enacted in the U.S. in the past decade, and was the political force behind the some of the most extreme anti-choice measures ever written into law.

A much longer long shot is Texas Senator Leticia Van de Putte running against Republican Senator Dan Patrick. Van de Putte trails Patrick by 15 points, but her numbers aren’t as bad as they look, according to University of Texas pollster and professor James Henson. Twenty three percent of potential voters are still undecided, Van de Putte is a successful fundraiser and she is running against a divisive and extremely reactionary opponent (even by Texas standards).

Patrick preaches the teaching of creationism in public schools; believes abortion should be banned even in cases of rape, incest or when birth puts the mother’s life is at risk; has warned against the threat of immigrant mothers delivering “anchor babies” on U.S. soil; promises to “shut down” the border; and for good measure, has argued for the repeal of the 17th amendment, which provides for the popular election of U.S. Senators.

If Van de Putte raises enough money and defines her opponent, she wins.

In what should be an against-the-odds race in North Carolina, Democratic U.S. Senator Kay Hagan is clinging to a slight lead over Republican Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, architect of the most extreme and successful right-wing state legislative agenda in the nation. Hagan has a -10 approval rating, but the divisive Tillis has a -23 percent approval rating. Hagan got a lift in August from a $500,000 ad, paid for by Emily’s List, attacking Tillis for his opposition to equal pay for women.

Down ballot in California, social-justice lawyer Sandra Fluke is running for an open, Los Angeles County state Senate seat. Fluke is a product of right-wing extremism. In February 2012, Republican lawmakers blocked her testimony before the House Oversight Committee regarding Obamacare and contraceptives for college students. Rush Limbaugh further elevated her profile by calling her a “prostitute” and a “slut.” Fluke planned to run for the U.S. House seat vacated by Henry Waxman, then filed for the state Senate race. California’s open primary system has her running against Ben Allen, a fellow Democrat. According to the Santa Monica Daily Press, Allen is backed by Republicans and Republican money, including $600,000 in independent expenditures from businessman philanthropist Bill Bloomfield, who in the past has supported the campaigns of John McCain and John Boehner.

Lou Dubose is the editor of The Washington Spectator.

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