MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke won’t take the stage with President Barack Obama when he speaks at the Labor Day rally in Milwaukee, marking the second presidential visit to Wisconsin that will pass without Burke’s involvement.
Both Burke and Obama will be at the “Laborfest” celebration of organized labor that attracts thousands to the shore of Lake Michigan in Milwaukee, but Burke will be meeting privately with the president and not speaking, said her spokesman Joe Zepecki on Thursday.
Republicans, including Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign, said Burke was ducking Obama because his approval ratings have dipped below 50 percent in Wisconsin. But Zepecki said Burke has invited Obama to return for a campaign event and she is confident that will happen before the Nov. 4 election.
“Unfortunately, that was not an option for this event,” Zepecki said.
Burke, a former state Commerce Department secretary and Trek Bicycles executive, had planned to attend the event before Obama’s participation was announced on Wednesday. It makes no sense for her to be among the speakers because she isn’t an elected official, Zepecki said.
At the 2010 event, which was the last time Obama attended, Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett spoke.
Barrett’s participation then made sense because he is the mayor of Milwaukee, said Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate. It doesn’t make sense for Burke to speak this year, he said.
Still, that didn’t stop Republicans from accusing Burke of running away from Obama. In January, the last time Obama was in Wisconsin, Burke was campaigning on the other side of the state. She spoke to him by phone.
A Marquette University Law School poll released on Wednesday showed that just as many likely voters – 49 percent – have a favorable view of the president as an unfavorable one. That same poll showed the race between Walker and Burke to be a dead heat.
“Mary Burke is willing to meet with President Obama in private but she refuses to campaign with him in public?” said Walker’s campaign spokeswoman Alleigh Marre. “Burke can offer up excuses and try to hide from President Obama and his rotten approval ratings, but she can’t hide from the fact that her and the president’s failed economic policies are one and the same.”
Walker, who had greeted Obama the last time he came to Wisconsin in January, initially did not plan to see him on Monday, said his spokeswoman Laurel Patrick. She said Walker was spending time with his family “before the campaign season kicks off.” But Patrick said later that Walker had a change to his family schedule that will allow him to greet Obama when he arrives at General Mitchell International Airport on Monday.
Walker’s signature achievement was passing a law in 2011 that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers. The law made Wisconsin the center of the national fight over union rights, sparked massive protests, and led to the 2012 recall election against Walker.
He prevailed and the issue raised Walker’s national profile, putting him in the mix as a potential 2016 presidential candidate.