Wednesday’s townhall – compare and contrast the candidates

If you didn’t get a chance to watch Wednesday’s talk between Republican gubernatorial candidates Mark Neumann and Scott Walker, you can see the whole thing on the WISN website.

The candidates were seated with moderator Mike Gousha. Both looked a little nervous to me, and I completely get that. A lot is on the line by this point in the race. The format let them speak to more voters than ever before. This was the big time. They both also looked, in Oklahoma terms, bright-eyed and bushy tailed. They were ready.

Although the questions were new to the candidates, early in the hour both tended to slide back to their comfortable talking points. Both stayed positive. Gousha reminded them to talk to the question, not to the campaign points. I do think things loosened up a bit after that.

I don’t fault either candidate for the instinct to stay on message. It’s what you do when you’re on the campaign trail. A candidate who will tell you what they think off the top of their head is extremely rare and tends to get themselves in trouble. It’s one of the complaints campaign watchers are having against Ron Johnson as he runs for Wisconsin’s spot in the Senate. I find it endearing, but I cut candidates a lot of slack. (Knock a few hundred doors of your own and you’ll be more compassionate than you ever thought possible over that candidate gaffe that’s bound to happen.)

Both candidates want to bring jobs to Wisconsin. Neumann wants to integrate that goal with education. He suggests a plan to provide learning triangles to promote business areas. Walker spoke a lot about the past, and then invoked Tommy Thompson. He never lays out a plan to make the promise happen. Listen carefully and all you’ll here is the promise repeated as well as a couple of stories.

Neumann wins the job point. There is a plan. Walker, in my opinion, made a big mistake by bringing Tommy Thompson into the conversation. Thompson may have been popular initially, but lately reminds voters more of Brett Favre than a dynamic leader. He’s not a good ally for Walker.

That question moves into taxing and spending. I covered Neumann’s taxing change yesterday. Neither candidate describes specific spending cuts.

Walker uses the “friendly story” strategy in this town hall. Over and over again he walks away from the point and tells about a couple in a distant part of the state. I think it’s too much.

When they get to Walker accusing Neumann of “fraud” with the tax plan, Neumann scores big with, “I understand you don’t get it, Scott.” Indeed, Scott may not get it. It took me a while, too, but once I started thinking outside the box, it clicked.

Walker was initially more pointed in responding to the question of three places they’d spend and three places they’d cut. Neumann specified his eventually. Neither articulated areas to cut spending.

Another question asks about entitlements in Wisconsin. Neumann promises to meet the need of those who truly can not care for themselves. I saw this as a bit of a slap to Walker given the recent Mental Health Complex problems in Milwaukee County. Neumann also calls education an entitlement.

At 25:00 in this video, Walker makes what the MJS calls an error regarding Badger Care.

“It was supposed to be a temporary step up as they moved into permanent employment,” Walker said of BadgerCare Plus in the debate. “Instead, under this governor, we’ve had the time limits go away and we see a permanent entitlement created, and that’s brought about all kinds of fraud and abuse and problems not only there but in the child care component as well. That will stop when I’m governor.”

But BadgerCare Plus and its precursor never included time limits. Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle expanded the program in 2007 but did not make changes affecting how long someone could be on the program. The program costs more than $1 billion a year, with the federal government paying 60% or more.

BadgerCare isn’t popular with Republicans. I see this as a move to satisfy the base by Walker rather than proffer accuracy.

The MJS calls Neumann out, too, on a small issue. I’d say both are an attempt by the MJS to write a story and not really problems in fact.

The train is preferred in the LaCrosse question. Both candidates agree to cut the plan. Neumann wants, if possible to put the money back to the taxpayers in tax relief. Walker wants to assign the money to transportation improvements. Both arguments are likely moot because the federal government will probably take their money and play somewhere else if the plan is scrapped.

At 42:00 they question from Wausau tackles the state’s “energy landscape.” I have to give this one to Neumann. He has effectively shut down the Belling babble that falsely defined Neumann on this subject. It showed in this answer, and more importantly, Walker recognized (in my opinion) Neumann’s superior stance in this answer, because he’s now “all about being green.” Yes, that’s what Walker said.

The next question is about adjudicating 17 year olds as adults. Both candidates appeared to agree to try them as adults. Both seem to take a tough on crime stance.

The last question is how to lower taxes and still pay the bills. Walker answers growth. Neumann answers restricted spending in addition to growth.

Walker runs on his record. Neumann runs on 26 years of private business experience. That 26 years is important in looking to a possible Barrett/Neumann match, as Barrett is described as having 26 years as a politician by the Neumann campaign.

Walker runs on his record. Neumann wrote a book detailing his plan for the next four years.

Walker wants you to believe in Wisconsin again, while Neumann tells you he’s always believed in Wisconsin.

Was their a clear winner and loser? I don’t think so. Both candidate’s campaigns appeared pleased with their effort. Neumann’s did keep the buzz going a bit longer and even offered a link to the debate, and that may indicate they were just a little more excited about how things went. Walker, in contrast, skipped right over it all and let you know he’s being endorsed the the Wisconsin Grocer’s Association.

I will say in the end Walker came off more as the polished politician. He kept referring to “when I’m governor” and in the end asked for the vote. Both techniques are generally considered important in the trade. The first allows the voter to better visualize the candidate in the office for which he is running, the second is given to close the sale.

Will it work for him September 14th?