If Wisconsin's gubernatorial election is about money and the ability to raise it - and it usually is - then Mary Burke may be in for some rough sledding come November.
Recent campaign finance reports indicate Gov. Scott Walker raised $5.1 million during the last six months of 2013. Burke tallied $1.8 million after officially entering the race on Oct. 7. About $400,000 of that total is Burke's own money, according to reports from the campaign of the former Trek Bicycle Corp. executive.
Walker's ability to raise money seems to know few bounds, whether it be individual donations of $50 or less, or wealthy out-of-state beneficiaries interested in bankrolling his potential national ambitions.
Burke, on the other hand, remains a relative political unknown. She has just months to make up ground on an incumbent who, for good or ill, has a way of interjecting himself into - or becoming - the news of the day. Burke may need to spend a great deal more of her own money to put herself "out there" to the extent Walker does.
That might just happen if Burke is serious about challenging an incumbent governor. She is savvy enough to know that position statements, sound bites and other campaign jargon often take a back seat to money in high-stakes political campaigns. Recent history provides but one example, when Walker easily defeated Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in a 2012 recall election.
That campaign was by far the most expensive in Wisconsin's history, with Walker raising more than $30 million, the majority from out of state. That was more than seven times the $3.9 million Barrett raised for the recall election.
The lesson for Burke? Going dollar-for-dollar with Walker will be difficult and won't guarantee victory, but it could provide her a fighting chance. Failing to do so might just be political suicide.
In addition to upping the spending ante, Burke needs to begin gaining some momentum. A poll taken by Public Policy Polling last September, just before she entered the race, showed Burke trailing Walker by 6 percentage points, a wide margin. A subsequent Marquette University poll two weeks after she announced showed that Walker's advantage had dwindled to 2 percentage points.
However, another Marquette University poll taken in January indicates the difference has again grown to 6 points. Burke has failed to sustain the initial spike in popularity she gained after entering the race. Coincidentally - or not - she has been significantly outspent by Walker during that period.
Money alone, of course, is not the only factor in a political race of this magnitude. Each candidate needs a clear and consistent message. Walker has an advantage on that score as well. The governor is nothing but consistent - some would say stubborn - in his core message. He touted it again during an appearance Tuesday evening before 500 members of the Manitowoc County Chamber of Commerce - the benefits of Act 10, overcoming deficits to build a $912 million budget surplus, tax reform, worker training and initiatives to help disabled workers.
Burke, aside from a few high-profile position statements that include raising the minimum wage and giving gay couples the right to wed in Wisconsin, has been slow to develop a platform that people can identify - or identify with.
She has some time to do that, but it runs shorter by the day. She'll need to begin using her time and money wisely to raise a serious challenge in the fall election.