By Collin Roth
Tom Barrett emerged on Tuesday night as the Democratic nominee for governor, soundly defeating three opponents and earning 58% of the vote despite failing to garner major union endorsements. Barrett was rumored all along to be interested in a rematch with Walker, but he held out until April when he was the last Democratic candidate to jump into the race. Nevertheless, Barrett capitalized on his name recognition and “moderate” image among a Left-leaning field of Democrats.
But just who are the brains behind the behind the Barrett operation?
Jay Howser is Barrett’s campaign manager after Barrett opted not to stick with his 2010 campaign manager Bill Hyers. Howser is something of a campaign journeyman with a brief career running big races. From the Deep South, to the Northeast, to most recently the Midwest, Howser’s meteor has risen in Democratic circles.
Howser first made a name for himself in 1998 while working for Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Don Siegelman in Alabama. Howser, was videotaping incumbent Republican Governor Fob James who ridiculed Howser for being a “pimp,” causing a bit of a flap. When Siegelman defeated James in 1998, Howser served as Deputy Policy Director until 2000 when Howser took a job doing research for Democrat Al Gore’s presidential campaign. After Gore’s defeat, Howser travelled to Minnesota where he worked as an advisor to the late Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone in 2002. Howser then took roles in several prominent Demcoratic campaigns including Senator Bob Graham’s 2004 presidential run, Claire McCaskill’s unsuccessful bid for Missouri governor, and Democrat Brad Ellsworth’s 2006 upset in Indiana’s District 8.
In 2008, Howser landed in Louisiana where he ran an unsuccessful campaign for governor before taking over the successful campaign of Mary Landrieu in her bid for U.S. Senate. And in 2009 and 2010, Howser was brought in to try and salvage Democrat Senator Chris Dodd’s campaign in Connecticut before Dodd pulled the plug. Howser’s most recent campaign stop was in Ohio where he managed Democrat Lee Fisher’s Senate campaign against Republican Rob Portman. Portman won by 18 points.
Running communications for Tom Barrett is Phil Walzak, a veteran of Democratic campaigns in Wisconsin including Barrett’s 2010 campaign. Walzak worked previously for Senator Herb Kohl, Rep. Jerry Kleczka, Barack Obama’s campaign in Wisconsin, Democrat Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan, and served as campaign manager for Chris Abele’s successful County Executive bid. Some might remember Walzak for his role in a taped conversation between himself and an SEIU operative in 2010 that caused many to speculate that Barrett and the SEIU were coordinating campaign strategy.
In addition to Howser and Walzak, Barrett has enlisted G Strategies, a local Milwaukee consulting firm led by Patrick Guarasci to help with fundraising. Mary Urbina-McCarthy, an associate with G Strategies is listed as Barrett’s Finance Director. Urbina-McCarthy previously worked on the campaigns of Assemblyman Tom Nelson and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Shirley Abrahamson.
In addition to hiring national campaign talent, Barrett has notably been very close to the Obama campaign. In November 2009, it was reported by Politico that former SEIU operative and then-Political Director for the Obama White House travelled to Milwaukee to urge Mayor Barrett to run for Governor in the 2010 election. In October 2010, Vice President Joe Biden flew to Madison to host a fundraiser for Mayor Barrett when he was running for governor and in February of 2012 the Democratic Party of Wisconsin announced that Mayor Barrett would be included on the Wisconsin Truth Team, a group of Democrats committed to “promoting the Presidents achievements, respond to attacks on his record and hold the Republicans accountable. Finally, just days before Barrett announced his intent to run for Governor, former Obama Chief of Staff and current Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel hosted a high-dollar fundraiser in Milwaukee for Barrett.
The national implications of a Barrett victory are certainly obvious to the Obama campaign team who desperately need to secure Wisconsin if they hope to win re-election in November 2012. With top campaign talent in place, the only question now is how much national money will flow in from labor unions to support Barrett over the final four weeks of the campaign.