With his next election more than a year away, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett holds a comfortable lead over two aldermen who have taken steps to challenge him.
But Barrett’s overall numbers are down from his past three elections, each of which he won with at least 70 percent of the vote over weak opponents. And the public is concerned that he hasn’t done enough to address the city’s lead poisoning problems.
Those are the primary takeaways from a poll taken Dec. 3-4 by Remington Research Group, a Republican survey firm out of Missouri, of 869 likely voters in the next Milwaukee mayor’s race. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percent.
According to the survey, 53 percent of voters said they would support Barrett running for a fifth term as the city’s mayor in 2020. A third said they would oppose another mayoral bid by Barrett, while 14 percent were unsure.
The fourth-term Democratic mayor has not said if he will seek re-election, but political insiders expect him to run again.
In the poll, Barrett outpaced both Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton and Ald. Tony Zielinski.
Barrett received the support of 42 percent of the voters in the survey, while Zielinski got 23 percent and Hamilton 19 percent. The rest were undecided.
Head-to-head, without Barrett in the race, Hamilton outpaced Zielinski by 39 percent to 34 percent. More than a quarter of voters said they didn’t have a preference.
Hamilton said he was satisfied with the results: “Compared to an incumbent and a person who’s been running for a year, I’m pleased with those numbers.”
As he is apt to do, Zielinski offered a more forceful analysis. He said the survey shows that Barrett is much more vulnerable than many in the city realize.
“In a three-way race, the mayor doesn’t come close to getting 50 percent of the vote,” Zielinski said. “This community is hungry for a change.”
Patrick Guarasci, a Barrett campaign adviser, declined to comment directly about the poll, citing how far off the election is.
Guarasci said Barrett is focused on creating jobs for the city and improving the safety of Milwaukee’s neighborhoods.
“That’s his re-election strategy,” Guarasci said. “No poll is needed to tell him there is work to be done and that voters want him focused on that work, not on the next election.”
The poll was paid for by Milwaukee Works, a local third-party group run by Dan Adams, a local criminal defense attorney and Democratic political pundit.
Adams is considered a political ally of Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, but Adams said Abele had no involvement in the survey. Adams hasn’t been linked to any of the three candidates.
Abele is thought by many to like Hamilton, though he has not commented publicly on the mayor’s race.The two shared courtside seats at the Fiserv Forum for a Milwaukee Bucks game the night that Hamilton filed his paperwork to run for mayor.
“This poll was done to take a quick snapshot of Milwaukee voters’ views of local issues and the upcoming mayor’s race,” Adams said.
The survey found that Barrett and Hamilton are drawing from the same base of support. They are liked by liberals, Democrats, African-Americans and voters on the north side. Barrett is also strong among political moderates. Both do equally well with men and women.
The primary difference is that Barrett does about twice as well among all of those groups as does Hamilton.
“There’s a reason to be concerned,” Hamilton said. “There’s only so many voters.”
Still, the Common Council president said this is also not surprising, given that he and the mayor have worked together on many projects. As he begins campaigning in the coming months, Hamilton said he will need to broaden his base.
The poll found Zielinski doing particularly well among conservatives, Republicans, south side residents and white, male voters.
Adams said this is “not a recipe for winning a citywide election,” given that Milwaukee is heavily Democratic.
But Zielinski said he has won repeatedly in a district that includes voters with a wide range of political views, including the liberal Bay View neighborhood. Plus, he said he has yet to run any TV or radio ads in the mayor’s race.
“Once those ads come out and the debates come up, these numbers are going to be totally different,” said Zielinski, who said he hopes to focus on how he believes the central city has been neglected.
Adams’ poll raised questions on three particular issues.
Respondents were asked about the problems at the city Health Department, which has been in turmoil for much the past year for failing to protect the city’s children from lead poisoning.
Asked if Barrett has done enough to address these problems, 53% of voters said he had not while 25% agreed that he had. More than one in five offered no opinion.
Those interviewed by the pollster were asked whether, to improve public safety, more city money should be put into community services and job training or in hiring more police officers. Fifty percent chose community training, and 41 percent went with more cops.
Finally, 40 percent of the Milwaukee voters said they support Barrett’s new streetcar, The Hop, which began running downtown last month. By contrast, 47 percent said they oppose it.
Support for the streetcar is up 10 percentage points from a poll done by GOP operative Craig Peterson using the same pollster in 2016, though that survey didn’t allow people to say that they were undecided.
“Nothing in the poll results is terribly shocking,” Adams concluded. “General support for a Barrett fifth term is polling below his 2016 victory margin, the streetcar is still relatively unpopular, and voters don’t believe the lead poisoning issue has been adequately addressed.”
Contact Daniel Bice at (414) 224-2135 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DanielBice or on Facebook at fb.me/daniel.bice.
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