A red or blue governor in Wisconsin?by Sea Stachura, Minnesota Public Radio
Just across the border, there's a contentious race for governor in Wisconsin. Recent polls have given incumbent Democrat Jim Doyle a narrow lead over Republican challenger Congressman Mark Green. However, local experts point out Wisconsin hasn't re-elected a Democrat for governor since 1974.
La Crosse, Wis. — Gov. Jim Doyle and Rep. Mark Green do have a few things in common. Both men are lawyers, both volunteered in Africa and both have been in politics a long time.
That's about where the likeness ends.
They offer voters distinct choices, but University of Wisconsin political science professor Charles Franklin says Wisconsin voters don't necessarily vote along party lines.
"It's really plausible for either party to win state-wide. Here we have both houses of the legislature are Republican, but both our U.S. Senators are Democrats. So we really are very close to an even balance," Franklin says.
Add it to a few hot button issues and you have a race up for grabs. On the ballot this year, voters will decide whether they want to restore the death penalty and whether they want to constitutionally ban gay marriage. Franklin says issues like these have rallied the Republican base.
But he says that's not why incumbent Jim Doyle, a middle-of-the-road Democrat with generations of political history, is clinging to his narrow opinion poll lead over Republican Mark Green. He says part of it is the massive budget shortfall Doyle inherited from the previous administration.
"And so much of his four years has been spent dealing with that budget deficit," Franklin explains. "And so while he can claim credit for having solved the state's financial problems, he really is not in the position to claim a lot of credit for other initiatives, thanks to the budget limits."
Without too many programs to hold up, Doyle has been battling Green over stem cell research and health care spending. Wisconsin is considered the birthplace, so to speak, of embryonic stem cell research. It's also a state with spiking health care costs.
At Doyle and Green's final televised debate, Gov. Doyle closed with stem cells.
"I support embryonic stem cell research," Doyle says. "I support the research that has the potential of curing diseases that we long thought were incurable. I'm so proud to be governor of this state where this research began. Now Congressman Green has said that the research that goes on at the University Wisconsin and the Medical College of Wisconsin is wrong. I don't think it's wrong."
"First off, Gov. Doyle's wrong," Green responds. "I've never said that research is wrong. I support it. I helped secure the money that launched so much of it."
Green supports umbilical cord stem cell research. He is against furthering embryonic stem cell research. He says the cells are 'living human embryos' that shouldn't be destroyed.
Wisconsin has four existing embryonic stem cell lines that produce stem cells for research. Scientists from across the country come to learn how to work with the cells and the equipment found in Wisconsin.
But that hasn't meant overwhelming public support for the research. Wisconsin Right to Life is a powerful organization in the state, and it's very much opposed to the research.
Health care is the other hotly debated subject. Green says Doyle has let medical costs sky rocket in Wisconsin.
"And when we see, after four years, that the number of uninsureds in Wisconsin is going up, and that our health care costs are rising than the national average, and the fact that in parts of Wisconsin, like southeastern Wisconsin, we now have the highest health care costs in the nation, pretty clearly, what Gov. Doyle has been offering, isn't working," Green says.
Like many Republicans, Green says health savings accounts are the solution.
But Doyle counters that massive cuts to federal health programs like Medicaid have forced the state to pay for more health services. He says Wisconsin hasn't cut back on health care, and it has opened its doors to Canadian drugs.
"Health insurance in this country has risen to 44 million people in the United States that aren't covered. The increase has been much lower in Wisconsin than around the country," Doyle says.
Like many Democrats, Doyle says he wants to insure all Wisconsin children and to create a state-aided catastrophic insurance program.
As in Minnesota, both candidates are flying in big political names like U.S. Sen. Barack Obama and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani.
- Morning Edition, 11/01/2006, 7:25 a.m.