MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) accused Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) during the gubernatorial debate on Thursday of running an inappropriate ad about crime in his city, comparing it to the much-criticized "Willie Horton" ad of the 1988 presidential campaign.
"This 2-year-old spent six days in intensive care after being severely beaten," says the Walker ad's narrator. "But Tom Barrett’s police department didn’t consider it a violent crime." The ad then shows crime statistics and asserts "violent crime is up" in Milwaukee.
"He's running a commercial right now that shows a dead baby," Barrett said during the debate. "It shows a picture of a dead baby. This is Willie Horton stuff. That baby died."
"You're running a commercial attacking my integrity, claiming that I had something to do with this, and you know that's false," added Barrett, his voice rising. "You tell me whether you think I had anything to do with that."
Walker began to respond, saying, "No, I'm asking you --"
Before he could finish, Barrett cut him off. "I'll tell you right now, I had nothing to do with that," Barrett said. "You should be ashamed of that commercial, Scott Walker."
At a press conference after the debate, Walker said the ad hadn't received bad reaction. "Most people are surprised when they see that the facts show ... that violent crime sadly is not down in the city of Milwaukee. It's up," Walker said.
Thursday's clash at Marquette University Law School was the second and final debate before the June 5 recall elections, where the governor, lieutenant governor and six GOP state senators will fight to save their seats.
As in the first debate, Barrett aggressively went after Walker. But at that face-off, the two men stood at lecterns, and Walker largely avoided engaging the mayor. This time, the two sat close together at a table, and Walker repeatedly challenged Barrett, urging him to put out a more detailed budget plan and to say specifically how his policies would be different.
Walker, however, remained on the defensive for most of the debate. Even his criticisms of Milwaukee were questioned, when the moderator -- WISN news anchor Mike Gousha -- asked whether the attacks could hurt the city and, ultimately, the state.
"Governor, in your ads, you talk about crime, you talk about poverty, you talk about things like that. But the fact of the matter is, Milwaukee also generates a lot of growth. It's home to a number of Fortune 500 companies, it's the arts and entertainment capital. Isn't there a danger that you're doing collateral damage to this city, its reputation, the tourism industry and all that?" asked Gousha.
"I don't think so at all. I love the city," said Walker, pointing out his family's ties to the city. "I said I don't want Wisconsin to face the same sort of challenges the city of Milwaukee has under this mayor's leadership."
Gousha also questioned Walker about a damning news story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that broke just hours before the debate, reading, "Milwaukee County prosecutors opened the secret John Doe criminal investigation more than two years ago after being stonewalled by Gov. Scott Walker's office when he was county executive, according to a newly released record."
The probe, which has already ensnared several of Walker's former aides, is reportedly focusing on whether staffers who worked for Walker did political work on the taxpayers' dime.
When asked whether his office stonewalled the investigation, Walker replied, "No. Absolutely not."
"I am not a target of this. We've been involved in a process to be able to help with it," Walker said, adding, "When the time was told to us in our office that someone had violated our strict policy for using public resources for political purposes ... we took swift action in our office."
Barrett was confident at his post-debate press conference, denying that the last-minute visits by high-profile Democrats to help him campaign were because he was struggling in his race. Polls consistently show Walker ahead.
"I think it shows they smell a winner," Barrett replied.