- Associated Press - Thursday, October 9, 2014

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Mary Burke will appear together on the same stage Friday night for the first of two debates, giving voters in their hotly contested governor’s race a chance to size up the candidates less than a month before the election.

Burke, a former Trek Bicycles executive and state Commerce Department secretary, is trying to knock off the better-known Walker, who is on the ballot for the third time in four years. He defeated a 2012 recall campaign, bolstering his national political credentials and putting him in the mix for a potential 2016 presidential run.

Walker has been in elective office since 1993 and is a veteran of prime-time live debates. Burke hasn’t been under the same bright lights, and she’s stumbled this campaign when answering questions on the fly. Opponents have capitalized on the missteps with attack ads.

“Certainly, I have a lot less experience doing this but it doesn’t mean it’s anything different in terms of conveying my message,” Burke said in an interview Thursday. “It’s a great opportunity for voters in Wisconsin to get to know me and see the contrast between the two candidates.”

The most recent Marquette University Law School poll last week showed Burke has to make up ground in the final weeks. The poll showed she is down by 5 points with a 4.1-percentage-point margin of error.

Walker said he expects Burke to be on the offensive when they meet in Eau Claire. The debate is being broadcast live statewide on about 100 television and radio stations, as well as nationally on C-SPAN.

“I’m going to spend my time talking about our plans to make Wisconsin even better four years from now and I would imagine my opponent will spend most of her time trashing us,” Walker said on Monday when asked about his intentions for the debate. “But I think voters want to hear solutions, they don’t want to hear just attacks.”

Walker and his backers have done their share of attacking as well, primarily in television ads. In perhaps Walker’s hardest-hitting ad so far, he goes after Burke’s use of copied material in her jobs plan that she made the centerpiece of her campaign. The ad features footage of Burke stumbling at a news conference trying to define plagiarism.

Burke can’t afford any uncomfortable moments like that in the debate, said veteran Republican campaign strategist Brandon Scholz.

“Mary Burke has to be very careful and not make any mistakes,” Scholz said.

Burke backers who attended a rally with her and first lady Michelle Obama in Madison on Tuesday said they’re hoping to hear more details from Burke about her plans for the future.

“I’d like to hear Mary Burke be really clear on where she stands on a lot of things,” said voter Linda Jallings, a 70-year-old retired Burke supporter from Madison.


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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