Growth and jobs rate re-election

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Close call, but Walker's commitment to business has produced results.

GEORGE WASHINGTON thought two terms as President of the United States was enough. Except for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, two terms has been enough for every chief executive since. The 22nd Amendment, adopted in 1947, now limits all presidents to two terms.

So anytime a top elected official chooses to seek a third term, that individual is swimming against a strong American electoral current. There's a built-in prejudice among voters against keeping an executive in office beyond two terms.

Here in Wisconsin, the last governor wanting to go beyond two terms was Tommy Thompson. He ran and won four times.

On Nov. 6, Gov. Scott Walker is asking voters for a third term. The Republican incumbent finds himself in the fight of his political life against Democrat challenger Tony Evers, the sitting elected state superintendent of schools.

THE RACE APPEARS to be razor-thin, and the winner - either way - is likely to squeak through by the narrowest of margins.

In certain ways, that's a surprise.

First, yet again, Walker has the advantage of running in a presidential off-year election. Republicans traditionally do well in off-years, because GOP voters generally turn out at significantly higher percentages than Democrats during those cycles.

Second, the Wisconsin economy - along with the U.S. economy - is humming. Businesses are prospering. Growth is strong. Job opportunities are plentiful. Unemployment is at historic lows. Even wages are growing, after years of lagging. Incumbents usually are sitting pretty during strong economic times.

Third, Walker's opponent Tony Evers did not start out as a well-known candidate, even though he has won statewide office before in the low-turnout nonpartisan elections to lead the Department of Public Instruction. The candidate with stronger name recognition - that's Walker - usually has a big advantage in off-year elections.

SO WHY ISN'T Scott Walker having an easy time as he campaigns for a third term?

In our view, it's because of the non-economic - read: divisive partisan tactics - practices and policies pursued over the past eight years. A lot of voters are not pleased with one-party control and some of the more toxic and polarizing actions. Gerrymandering is on that list. So are some of the provisions of Act 10 - which definitely had positive portions, but also crossed some lines in vilifying public employees. There are voting rights excesses, such as tinkering with things like the ability to cast a straight ballot and limiting early voting. There have been questionable actions regarding environmental issues, such as muzzling Department of Natural Resources experts on climate change.

In other words, the hardline partisan issues that have made Walker and the Republican majority in the legislature controversial for eight years remain divisive. When the ask is for a third term - as we said earlier, it's outside the political norm - the divisive issues may take on more weight in voters' considerations.

Add to that Walker's ill-fated and ill-advised presidential run. Polls showed a strong majority of Wisconsin people objected, questioning whether Walker really wants to be their governor or has just been using the office as a base to fuel larger ambitions.

MEANWHILE, THAT relatively less-known candidate - Tony Evers - has presented himself as not only a plausible rival for Walker, but as an individual who wants to bridge the partisan divide.

Yes, we know. They all say that as Election Day nears, then tend to revert to form as soon as the votes are counted. But Evers sounds convincing, and his track record at DPI suggests he's a collaborator.

His campaign rhetoric has been mostly left-leaning, as might be expected, in order to fire up the liberal base. Whether a candidate is left or right, feeding some red meat to the base is critical. Both Evers and Walker know that, and act accordingly. If the base is not enthused and decides to stay home, you're toast. So it's not a surprise Evers says things to please his base, even though his record in office is more moderate.

Perhaps his strongest point is his personality. We mean this in a positive way - Evers is older than Walker - but Evers comes off around people in a soft-spoken, grandfatherly way. It's hard for opponents to paint someone as a scary ogre when he seems more like Mr. Rogers.

AND THAT'S WHY this is a tough choice. On one hand, there's the governor - who has been a strong leader and rightly can take credit for the best economy Wisconsin has seen in a very long time. On the other hand, there's Evers - who has done well as state superintendent and sounds genuine in his determination to heal Wisconsin's divisions.

It's a close call, but we give the edge - a very slight edge - to Walker. We do so on the basis of Wisconsin's strong economy. That didn't happen by accident. Walker's strongest point is his commitment to helping businesses thrive and prosper in order to grow jobs and give Wisconsin a pathway to a brighter future. It hasn't always been pretty and it hasn't always been popular - in fact, we have serious doubts about the size of the Foxconn incentive package - but no one can credibly deny it has been effective. Not long ago, Wisconsin was known as a high-tax, over-regulated, unfriendly place to do business. Today, it's on the short list for developers.

That matters, both for today's workers and the kids we all hope find the right reasons to stay and work here tomorrow.

LOOK, IF TONY EVERS wakes up as the governor-elect on Nov. 7, that's hardly a disaster. He has a proven record, a conciliatory attitude, and likely will make a good governor. The scare tactics against him ring hollow.

Nevertheless, we endorse Scott Walker on the basis of Wisconsin's strong economic success. People are better off than they were eight years ago.

At the same time, if Walker squeaks through, we hope a close call lets him know voters are jerking his leash. The "divide and conquer" tactics may have worked, but they have made Wisconsin a more unfriendly place. We're better than that, governor. You need to be better, too.

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