Lee Bergquist: The issues aren’t that different from a lot of other gubernatorial races this year. In Wisconsin it’s really about the economy, jobs, and taxes. The Wisconsin economy is probably faring slightly better than the rest of the country. But only slightly. I think there’s a bit of a long-standing inferiority complex about our state. We’re bookended by Illinois on one end with Chicago and then Minnesota on the other. Illinois’s economy is much weaker than ours right now but there’s Chicago there, and it’s an economic juggernaut. And Minnesota’s economy has been stronger than ours. We’re worried about our competitiveness. Among the candidates there is a lot of discussion about what they will do to make the economy stronger.

Were you surprised when Democratic governor Jim Doyle decided to drop out of the race?

LB: It was a bit of a surprise but it comes down to a couple of things. He’s the governor of the state and our state’s not doing too well right now; just by virtue of his position he assumes some of the blame for what’s happening. And I just don’t think he’s been effective at addressing economic issues in the last year or so.

Tom Barrett seems to have the Democratic nomination locked up, and Scott Walker has pulled ahead of his GOP rival Mark Neumann. Why has Walker seemingly come out on top among the Republicans?

LB: I think Walker has been an effective campaigner. He has all the support of the Republican orthodoxy in the state. Neumann is more of an outsider; Walker is the Milwaukee County executive. He won the party’s nomination at the state convention, he’s attracting support from the Republican Governor’s Association, and he’s getting a lot of support from Republicans in the state. Neumann is a businessman, a former congressman, who is largely self-financed. The two messages in a way are the same. They both are calling for smaller government, less taxes, making the state more competitive in the years to come. But Neumann is trying to differentiate himself from everybody else because he’s been a successful businessman.

That message has worked elsewhere.

LB: I think it could work in Wisconsin. It’s not a matter of business experience being a negative. In our case I think it’s just a matter that Walker and Barrett have simply run more effective campaigns at this point compared to Neumann.

What’s Barrett’s approach to the GOP front-runner?

LB: Barrett and Walker have become critical of each other, and the Republican Governors Association has run ads critical of Barrett. They’ve painted Barrett as no different from Jim Doyle, someone who was for higher taxes, bigger government, and wouldn’t help out on the economy. Barrett has come back with a critical ad portraying Walker as a flip-flopper. Walker had taken a position that was fairly moderate on immigration; when Arizona governor Jan Brewer came out with their immigration plan, he said he wouldn’t go as strongly as that. About twenty-four hours later he said he would support the Arizona plan.

Walker has made an issue of “Obamacare.” How has that played in Wisconsin?

LB: I think it will resonate with a lot of voters but I don’t think that it’s black and white by any means. I would venture to say—and we haven’t done a lot of polling on “Obamacare” at all—that there’d be fifty-fifty or a slight advantage to those opposed to health care reform.

The difference is that in our state we have several state-funded health care plans for low-income people. When you add those in with traditional health care for the poor, our system of providing health care to those who need it—low-income folks—is pretty good. Health care reform had kind of been going on in our state already.

In the senate race, Democrat Russ Feingold seems to have suffered through his attachment to controversial policies like Obamacare.

Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.