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Citizen Dave: Wisconsin's gubernatorial race and the strange optics of President Obama's visit to Milwaukee
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Why did Walker go out of his way to greet the president?
Credit:Friends of Scott Walker

There it was on the front page of my morning paper: Barack Obama shaking the hand and patting the shoulder of Governor Scott Walker as the president arrived at Milwaukee's airport on his way to speak to a Labor Day gathering.

But you could not find a similar picture with Walker's Democratic challenger for Wisconsin governor. Mary Burke, who attended the rally, did not appear on-stage with the president.

What's going on here? How cold is it in hell right now exactly?

Well, Burke's of the equation is relatively easy to understand, even if I disagree with it. With Obama's approval ratings running around 40%, she doesn't want to be seen as too close (metaphorically and literally) to an unpopular president.

But why did Walker go out of his way to greet the president knowing their picture together would likely make front pages across the state? My best guess is that the governor's campaign strategists wanted to taunt Burke. By showing himself willing to stand literally with Obama, Walker only emphasized Burke's unwillingness to stand with the president symbolically. And, of course, the governor had nothing to risk. He could have gone out for a beer and a round of golf with the president, and no one would confuse him with being a supporter of Obama's policies.

This brings us back to the Burke campaign's strategists -- they're thinking too much. A lot of politics is just in your gut. It seems to me that when your party's president shows up in your state, a gubernatorial candidate should just go stand with him, tell the crowd that he's great, and let him say the same thing about her. Nobody would hold that against Mary Burke. It would only be polite. This is the Midwest. We do that.

In in any event, a lot of this campaign is about getting the base excited so that they not only vote, but volunteer, talk to their friends and give money. Obama is still pretty popular with the Democratic base, especially African Americans. Being seen with the president would have helped fire up the activists and key constituencies while costing virtually nothing with swing voters. Those few undecideds, even if they don't like him, would understand why a Democratic candidate would do the polite thing when a Democratic president comes to her home state.

There wasn't that much to risk here, but there was something to gain. The picture on the front page of my morning paper should have been of the president and the Democrat who wants to be governor, not with the Republican who currently holds that job.

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