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Friday, January 30, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 24.0° F  Partly Cloudy
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Scott Walker, Mark Neumann differ in key ways
GOP voters actually face a significant choice in race for governor
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Scott Walker (left), and Mark Neumann.
Scott Walker (left), and Mark Neumann.

Scott Walker 42
State rep, 1993-2002; Milwaukee County executive, 2002-present

Mark Neumann 56
U.S. House of Representatives, 1995-1999; unsuccessful candidate for Senate, 1998.

Whether they like it or not, and some don't, Republican voters have a choice in the race for governor. Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker has been considered the frontrunner since before he began his campaign 16 months ago; but his primary opponent, former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann, is mounting a spirited challenge in the Sept. 14 primary.

Ideologically the two candidates are barely distinct. They both claim to love small government, lower taxes and less regulation. Both are endorsed by Pro-Life Wisconsin, which opposes abortion in all instances and all forms of contraception. Both support allowing Wisconsin residents to get permits to carry concealed firearms.

Both have emphatically called for Wisconsin to "opt out" of the recent federal health-care overhaul, and both have promised to halt the Milwaukee-Madison high-speed rail project funded by federal stimulus dollars. Recently they both called for a repeal of the statewide smoking ban that went into effect in July.

They both emphasize the need for competition in education, including charter schools, vouchers for parents and virtual schooling.

However, a close examination of their records reveals a variety of differences between the two men on core issues, approach to politics and experience. Here are a few key areas.

Money: Neumann, who has spent the last 12 years running a real estate business, has millions at his disposal for TV ads and events. Walker, who has worked in government since age 26, must aggressively fundraise to compete in the primary and still have money left for the general election.

In the most recent filings, covering the first six months of this year, Walker reported raising $2.5 million and spending $2.7 million, leaving him with $2.5 million on hand. Neumann raised $2.8 million, spent $2 million and still has $1 million on hand.

Neumann has lent his campaign $2.7 million since January; Walker has lent his campaign $0.

Experience: As Neumann often points out, he has a college degree in mathematics and a master's degree in supervision and instructional leadership (education), while Walker is a college dropout. He left Marquette University, where he was reportedly a "C" student, at least one year short of a degree.

Their political experience differs greatly as well. While Neumann's only time in government comes from the four years he spent in Congress during the 1990s, Walker has spent the last nine years as executive of Wisconsin's most populous county. And while Neumann repeatedly implies that he was responsible for balancing the federal budget in 1998, Walker is actually the candidate who has experience managing government accounts.

Message: Neumann's message seems to be largely a response to Walker, the frontrunner. Most of his ads tout his success in the private sector and distinguish the values of business versus those of "career politicians." Neumann derides deficit spending as a symptom of a government that is not forced to make the tough decisions that small businesses make every day.

Walker touts his successes in government to present an image of a no-nonsense leader in an otherwise hopeless political system. His ads discuss the pay cuts he took as county executive, the cuts he made in government and his refusal to raise property taxes. Walker has also made a theme of his personal frugality, boasting that he drives an old car and packs a brown bag lunch every day to save money.

Of the two, Neumann offers the most specifics. While Walker's website includes short talking points on five major issues, Neumann's provides lengthy explanations of his positions on 13 issues. Walker is often more precise and on-message during interviews and speeches as well.

Property taxes: Neumann has come out with a plan to let taxpayers delay paying their 2011 property tax bills if they agree to switch to making monthly property-tax installments the following year. He dubs it the "largest tax cut in state history." But independent analysts have criticized this label, and the Walker campaign has called it nothing more than "smoke and mirrors" that will not translate into any actual savings.

Walker, meanwhile, supports a cap on property taxes, rather than letting local governments make tax decisions. Neumann dissents, saying that "people at the local level understand these issues better," and that municipalities will understand the benefits of low taxes if they can compare the effects of various tax policies in communities around the state.

State spending: Walker has proposed making state employees contribute more to their pensions, while Neumann insists he would shrink the deficit and the size of government by mandating that state spending grow at no more than 1% less than the rate of inflation.

Transportation: Neumann is unequivocally opposed to the creation of "express lanes," in which people would pay an extra fee to use less-crowded highway lanes. Walker is noncommittal on the issue.

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