As the labor-lubricated drive for signatures on petitions to recall Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker gains momentum, Democrats are starting to line up for a challenge to the conservative Republican chief executive next summer.
But with Jan. 17 the closing date for submission of the 540,208 signatures needed to place Walker on the Badger State ballot and a special election likely to be held in June, Democrats may be facing what they desperately don’t want or need: a contested primary for the gubernatorial nomination, which would be held March 27, or at the latest, April 24 (depending on whether there is a court order to extend the Government Accountability Board’s deadline of Feb. 17 for certification of the signatures 31 more days, as state election law provides).
Whatever the date, signs are strong that more than one Democrat will be competing for the right to face Walker, a hated figure on the Left for pushing through the legislature reforms requiring state employees to pay a greater portion of their retirement benefits.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who narrowly lost the ’10 race to Walker, is unopposed for reelection as mayor in April and reportedly very much wants a rematch. In addition, there is considerable talk of two other familiar Democrats making a run for governor: former Rep. (1969-2010) Dave Obey, once the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, who has lost bids for governor in the ’02 primary and state attorney general in ’06.
But Obey has been out of office for more than a year and living in the Washington, D.C., area, while Barrett and Falk both lost their last statewide campaigns. Younger, more leftist Democrats usually cite that in making calls for a fresh face to take on the hated Walker. In that regard, the names most mentioned are those of State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, who fled the state rather than vote on Walker’s collective-bargaining reforms, and Mahlon Mitchell, head of Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin and a fierce foe of Walker. According to Politico, Mitchell “has not publicly signaled an interest in running,” and Erpenbach has said he’s “strongly considering the race.”
“This is the Democrats’ dilemma,” veteran Wisconsin GOP consultant Scott Becher told HUMAN EVENTS last week. “They are so worked up over ousting Gov. Walker that they have too many actors on the stage. And that can only work to the advantage of the governor.”
Because the race will come early in a presidential election year, it will be interesting to see whether national Democrats will take a hand in shaping up their effort in a contest sure to be covered nationally and interpreted as a barometer on national trends.