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Businesswoman to challenge Wisconsin Governor Walker in 2014 poll

By Brendan O'Brien

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - Businesswoman Mary Burke, a relatively unknown Democrat, announced on Monday she would run in the 2014 election against Wisconsin's Republican Governor Scott Walker, who polarized the state with his push to curb the power of public sector unions.

Burke, the daughter of the founder of bicycle manufacturer Trek, announced her candidacy in a three-minute video in which she promised to fix the state's sluggish job growth, which ranks it 45th among states, according to Moody's.

"When you worry less about winning the argument and more about things that really matter like good jobs and schools that can lift up our kids, well you can make a world of difference," Burke said in the video, referring to the controversy surrounding Walker.

Burke, 54, was head of strategy and director of European operations for Trek, a 1,000-employee bicycle company.

She is not among the leading Democrats in Wisconsin, although she served as commerce secretary in the administration of the last Democratic governor, Jim Doyle, from 2005 to 2007.

Other than a current stint on the Madison Metropolitan School District school board, Burke has never held political office.

Walker became a national conservative hero in 2011 when he pushed through severe restrictions on the power of public sector unions and was the first U.S. governor in history to survive a recall election the next year.

But Walker's job approval in July was at 48 percent, down from 50 percent in March, according to a Marquette Law School poll. The decline was linked to the state's weak employment market, according to the poll.

Burke's business background and lack of political experience could work in her favor, according to John McAdams, a political scientist at Marquette University.

"I think this is Democrats' dream candidate. Look around, who do they have?" McAdams said. "They don't have a really deep bench."

Big name Democrats such as former Senators Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl, current Senator Tammy Baldwin and current Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett are not likely to jump into the race, political analysts said. Walker beat Barrett in the recall election last year.

(Reporting By Brendan O'Brien; Editing by Greg McCune and Ken Wills)

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