Maybe a better question is, “Do Scott Walker’s allies want Republicans to think Chris Christie’s trying to tank his reelection bid?”
Christie’s the head of the Republican Governors Association this year, which serves the same purpose for GOP governors as the NRSC and NRCC do for Senate and House candidates. He barnstorms the country, raises tons of money for the RGA, and then the RGA distributes that money to Republican governors who are stuck in tight races with Democrats. Walker’s race is as tight as it gets, much tighter than anyone expected: He’s just 0.2 points ahead of Democrat Mary Burke right now in the RCP poll average. If Walker loses, he’s done as a potential 2016 candidate; if he wins, he’s one of the most formidable candidates in the field. And his niche, that of the center-right Republican governor from a blue state who took on the Democrats’ special interests, just so happens to be the same niche that — ta da — Chris Christie is aiming to fill in 2016. Obvious possibility, then: Christie and the RGA are deliberately underspending in Wisconsin in hopes that Walker will lose, clearing the way for the big guy next year.
Is it true? Here’s what Walker said yesterday about the RGA in Politico’s splashily titled piece “Scott Walker to Chris Christie: Thanks for nothing.”
Asked if he was satisfied with the support he’s received from national Republicans, Walker indicated he hopes to get more backup from the Republican Governors Association. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who chairs the RGA, is coming to campaign for Walker this week — but the Wisconsin Republican said he’s “not looking for surrogates.”
“[Christie] is coming because he asked if he could come and we weren’t going to say no,” Walker said. “But we’re not looking for surrogates. The people that have been campaigning with me are by and large from Wisconsin.”
It’s TV spending, Walker emphasized, where national Republicans can make the biggest difference. So far, he said, the out-of-state effort on his behalf “pales in comparison” to what his coalition of foes have spent on the other side.
So Christie’s going to campaign for him personally in Wisconsin? That … doesn’t sound like a guy trying to stab a potential competitor in the back. But maybe that’s just his alibi when he’s accused of skullduggery later. What do the spending numbers say? The Weekly Standard published a piece last week in which Walker’s allies in Wisconsin claimed the RGA is set to spend more on Rick Snyder in Michigan than on Walker. That seems inexplicable at first blush: Snyder’s up by more than three points in his race and has led by as much as eight in one recent poll. Walker, meanwhile, is treading water and is a fatter target for the left, not only as revenge for his collective bargaining win several years ago but as a way of knocking him off before he becomes a threat to Hillary in 2016. Why spend more on Snyder?
A GOP source reassured the Standard that this was much ado about nothing, that the RGA had already spent $6 million on Walker and that, in fact, they were set to drop a whopping $4-5 million more in Wisconsin during the final few weeks before the election. That would push their spending on Walker not only past what they’ve spent in Michigan but past what the RGA itself had spent to defend Walker in the recall election in 2012. Christie was, apparently, going the extra mile to help Walker get reelected, not trying to tank his campaign. But then, the next day, the Standard published a follow-up: The RGA said it would spend only $2 million on Walker over the final week, not the $4-5 million that their source had heard. That would leave the group’s spending in Wisconsin below its spending in Michigan. What’s more, Republicans in Wisconsin claim that the RGA has spent only $3 million on Walker so far, not the $6 million that the Standard’s source claimed. If that’s true, it would mean that the RGA might spend just $5 million overall on Walker this year — roughly half of what it spent during the recall. Suddenly the “Christie tanked Walker” theory was back on the table
So what’s happening here? The frustrating answer is that we won’t know until after the election, when the final FEC reports are released. Even if the RGA ends up spending less on Walker than on Snyder, they’ll have defenses: It could be that the media markets in Michigan were more expensive, or it could be that they assumed a pol with a national following like Walker would essentially be able to fund himself. Per WaPo, while Team Walker likes to claim that it’s been outspent by its wealthy businesswoman opponent, that may not be true. Sources say that Walker and his allies have spent $20 million on advertising during the campaign versus $16.4 million by Democrat Mary Burke and her allies. Dave Weigel speculates that Walker is hinting that the RGA has abandoned him because he wants to present his campaign as a mainly local, Wisconsin affair, a point of contrast with the evil national special interests whom he says are funding Burke. Or, it could be as simple as Walker trying to squeeze the RGA for more dough in a race that’s down to the wire. With a spread of less than half a point between the incumbent and challenger, another million dollars or two in the last week could make the difference. Hinting that Christie’s deliberately trying to short-change him is a way to twist the RGA’s arm.
Or maybe this is just Walker’s way of giving conservatives and center-righties a new reason to dislike Christie. (Not that any more reasons were needed.) Christie’s not the only one thinking about 2016, after all.
Anyway, all of this seems to have blown over — for now. After Politico’s “thanks for nothing” story went viral yesterday, Walker called Christie a “good friend” and emphasized that “When I complain about the national groups that come in, I by no means am complaining about the RGA.” Hmmmm. Exit question: How’d we end up in a situation where Scott Walker, a guy who’s beaten a determined Democratic opposition twice and who’s touted widely as a serious 2016 contender, is clinging to life and begging for national help against no-name Mary Burke? Sure seems like they underestimated her, an odd realization given that Walker has been progressives’ public enemy number one for going on five years now.