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Mitchell’s lead in union cash doesn’t result in support in polls

The Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mahlon Mitchell addresses high school seniors at his alma mater, Delavan-Darien High School, in Delavan in March. Mitchell, head of a state firefighters union, won the endorsement of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO on Thursday. He is one of nine top-tier Democrats running in the Aug. 14 primary. (Angela Major/The Janesville Gazette via AP, File)

The Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mahlon Mitchell addresses high school seniors at his alma mater, Delavan-Darien High School, in Delavan in March. Mitchell, head of a state firefighters union, won the endorsement of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO on Thursday. He is one of nine top-tier Democrats running in the Aug. 14 primary. (Angela Major/The Janesville Gazette via AP, File)

The Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mahlon Mitchell has the backing of a bevy of state and national union groups — and the campaign cash to prove it — unlike his opponents in an eight-person race to challenge Gov. Scott Walker this fall.

But that support has yet to give the union firefighter much of a boost in the polls or help distinguish him from other seven Democrats he’ll be vying with in the primary election on Aug. 14 for his party’s nomination for governor.

In a Marquette University Law School Poll released last week, Mitchell trailed well behind State Superintendent Tony Evers, who managed to get 31 percent of the likely Democratic voters who responded signaling they’d vote for him in the primary. But Mitchell wasn’t the only one left in the dust. No candidate other than Evers earned more than single-digit support.

Mitchell and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout tied for second place with 6 percent of the respondents saying they’d support one of those two candidates. But they and the other candidates besides Evers can at least take solace in this: They can still perhaps gain ground merely by becoming better known to voters. A full 38 percent of the poll respondents said they were still unsure which candidate they should back.

Whichever Democrat wins the party’s nomination to challenge Walker in the general election this November will start with a marked fundraising disadvantage. The past six months have seen Walker raise $5.5 million. His campaign has collected about $12.6 million since January 2016 and now has nearly $6 million worth of cash on hand.

In all, the eight Democratic candidates running this year have raised $3.7 million and have $1.8 million worth of cash on hand. Roys, who raised the most of any candidate and had the most cash on-hand at the end of June, got only 3 percent of the likely Democratic voters surveyed in the Marquette poll to say they would support her. Her campaign collected an $84,000 contribution from EMILY’s List, a Democratic-aligned group that backs pro-choice candidates. That money made up the bulk of the $91,750 she has received from political committees. Roys has also loaned her own campaign $350,000.

Sonja Chojnacki, Roys’ campaign manager, said 70 percent of the campaign’s individual contributions were from people who live in the state, and 60 percent of the donors were women. Asked about Mitchell’s union support, Chojnacki said it’s safe to assume many of the individual contributors to the Roys campaign belong to unions, although the campaign was unable to confirm that because of campaign-finance rules.

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“Kelda has received a number of contributions from teachers and nurses and social workers,” Chojnacki said. “She comes from a union household, her father was a former police officer and state district attorney. Both of her sisters are union members. There’s no stronger ally than Roys, who has fought tirelessly for union members during Act 10.”

Campaign officials for Mitchell and Evers did not immediately return requests for comment Monday.

Much of Mitchell’s union support, meanwhile, comes from outside Wisconsin.

Mitchell has raised $133,597 from individual contributions and $476,660 from campaign committees — nearly all of it from out-of-state groups. Only $51,410 of Mitchell’s committee contributions come from groups that list a Wisconsin address, according to a financial report filed last week. The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139, among Mitchell’s largest contributors in Wisconsin, has kicked in $15,000 since April. Terry McGowan, president of the group, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment Monday.

IUOE 139 isn’t limiting itself to backing Mitchell, however.

On Monday, the union announced that it was behind a website and series of advertisements lampooning Walker’s current and previous transportation budgets. The campaign, organized as Safe Transportation Over Politics, calls attention to what it calls the state’s “Scott-holes,” referring to dilapidated roads, which the group blames on insufficient road spending.

“We are having some fun with this, but it is a deadly serious problem that needs fixing,” said Terry McGowan, president of Local 139. “This is not a partisan issue. Fixing our roads and highways cuts across party lines and people, including Republicans in the state legislature, are more than frustrated that the governor is thwarting every effort
to fund and repair our roads. Someone needs to lead.”

About Nate Beck, nbeck@dailyreporter.com

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

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