Walker, Burke spar in Wisconsin debate

Walker, Burke spar in Wisconsin debate
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Republican Scott Walker and Democrat Mary Burke sparred Friday over abortion, the economy, and voter rights.

The wide-ranging debate saw Burke repeatedly try to paint Walker, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, as divisive and beholden to the wealthy and special interests. Meanwhile, Walker looked to defend his record running Wisconsin since 2011.

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Reports characterized the debate as largely civil, as both candidates largely stuck to their talking points instead of trading more severe barbs. Friday’s debate was the first of two before voters head to the polls.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel said the most direct attack came when Burke accused Walker of signing a controversial mining bill in 2013 after a mining company donated $700,000 to an outside group that backed him.

Walker said he was trying to strike the right balance between creating economic opportunity in Wisconsin while protecting the environment.

Walker has clung to a slim lead over Burke for much of the race. But outing the Republican, who made a national name for himself by fighting against unions in Wisconsin, has been a top priority for Democrats nationwide.

The two also sparred over Walker’s voter ID law, which has been blocked by the courts. The governor argued that it was critical to ensure no illegal voters were being cast, while Burke said the law would do more to hamper legitimate voters than prevent fraud.

Social issues also were on the debate docket, as Burke confronted Walker on his law requiring women mulling abortions to receive an ultrasound. The 2013 law has been blocked pending an ongoing lawsuit, and Burke said it would restrict women’s access to legal healthcare.

Walker said he was not looking to outlaw abortion, but painted the measure as one aimed at ensuring the best protection of a woman’s health and safety.

While the debate was largely cordial, Burke struggled at one point to respond to a question about what each candidate admires about the other. Walker praised Burke’s philanthropic work on behalf of students. After a long pause, Burke, running her first statewide campaign, finally praised Walker’s efforts to combat domestic abuse.

Economic issues also played a major role in the debate. Walker sought to highlight the economic progress made over the last few years, while arguing his policies can ensure more to come. Burke, a former executive for Trek Bicycle Corp., highlighted Walker’s previous promise to deliver 250,000 jobs — just 100,000 Wisconsin jobs have been created under his governorship.

She said Wisconsin should not be “doubling down” on policies that failed to meet that goal, while Walker argued he was aiming high with that commitment.

The two also debated over raising the state’s $7.25 minimum wage, which Burke supports. Walker instead argued he was focused on creating jobs that pay well beyond that rate.