A non-candidate before the race

On Sunday, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported:

After three losses to Scott Walker, Wisconsin Democrats think they finally have a chance at the Republican governor in 2018.

There’s just one catch: They don’t have a candidate. Democrats still have time to find a leader who can raise money, hire staff, craft policies and a message to voters, but they don’t deny the clock is ticking.

“If we get to late summer and early fall and lack one or more than one credible candidate, it’ll be time to be worried,” said Joe Zepecki, a Democratic strategist who worked on businesswoman Mary Burke’s failed bid against Walker in 2014.

At the moment, the Democrats have no one on the field.

Former state Sen. Tim Cullen of Janesville registered a campaign committee for governor this month, but even he isn’t in for sure. The former Senate majority leader looked at a run in the 2012 recall election but decided against it then, noting that unions had greeted his overtures with “respectful indifference.”

“There is a big issue in the room and the issue is money,” he said in an interview.

At this point in 2009, then-Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker had been basically running against then-Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle for more than two years. When Doyle signed the state budget that year and then decided not to run for re-election, Walker had an advantage against the other candidates that he never relinquished.

Walker will have to make his own decision on whether to run for a third term after he and GOP lawmakers pass their own budget bill this summer.

Here are some of the factors that the GOP governor will consider:

On the plus side for an incumbent, the state’s unemployment rate in February stood at 3.7% — a level that is at or very near full employment. Walker has also proposed a budget that increases funding for schools and cuts taxes — two top priorities for most voters.

At the same time, Friday’s failure of President Donald Trump and House Republicans to pass an Obamacare repeal underlines the difficulties that GOP politicians up and down the ballot could face next year if the party doesn’t deliver on its campaign promises.The governor may be insulated from problems in Washington, D.C. He’s also proved to be a strong campaigner and fundraiser with a statewide machine that could well outperform Republicans nationally.

But there are some issues at home for Democrats to exploit. Walker, for instance, hasn’t convinced even some Republican lawmakers that he’s right to reject new money for the state’s road fund and instead delay projects.

The latest Marquette University Law School poll put Walker at a 45% approval rating, an uptick that puts the governor on higher ground but not necessarily out of danger if a Democratic wave were to crest in 2018.

Scratch one off the list. The Wisconsin State Journal reports:

Former state Sen. Tim Cullen announced Wednesday he won’t seek the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018, citing the hefty amount of necessary fundraising as a deterrent.

Cullen, 73, announced his decision in the Capitol Press Room alongside his daughter and a handful of supporters. He said the decision came in response to being told by others who have run for statewide office that he would need to spend three to four hours a day calling potential donors.

“This is a very sad commentary on the state of democracy and elections in Wisconsin,” Cullen said.

Cullen said he expected Gov. Scott Walker would be able to raise $45 million for the campaign after raising $35 million in his 2014 re-election and building up a larger donor base during his unsuccessful presidential campaign. Walker’s 2014 opponent Mary Burke raised $12 and contributed $5 million of her own wealth.

Cullen said the primary reason he considered a run was because “Governor Walker needs to be replaced. His divide-and-conquer approach is unlike any Wisconsin governor in at least the last 65 years.”

A spokesman for Walker replied: “With the lowest unemployment rate since 2000, more people working than ever before, and a bright economic outlook for Wisconsin families, it’s not surprising that serious Democrats continue to think twice and not run against Governor Walker’s strong record of results and reform.”

Cullen, a Senate majority leader in the 1980s who returned for a single term in 2010, was known as a centrist Democrat willing to make deals with Republicans. He has toured the state recently with retired Republican Sen. Dale Schultz to promote nonpartisan redistricting.

Cullen also wrote a book about his experience during the 2011 Act 10 protests, during which he was one of 14 Democratic senators who fled to Illinois, temporarily blocking passage of the law that curtailed public sector union influence in the state. Cullen considered running for the Democratic nomination during the 2012 recall.Cullen said he has been in contact with a number of other Democrats considering a run, but hasn’t endorsed any of them yet. Possible candidates he noted include Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ, Rep. Dana Wachs, Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, former Democratic Party chairman Matt Flynn and businessmen Andy Gronik and Mark Bakken.

Off that list, Parisi has no chance of getting votes outside of Madison. Happ has already lost a statewide race. People have heard of Vinehout, but she elected not to run four years ago, and her interest in the job doesn’t seem to be there. Few know who Wachs, a Democrat from Eau Claire, is. Being a party official doesn’t mean you know anything about governing, which is the point of elections.

Who is Gronik? The Associated Press has the answer:

Milwaukee businessman and entrepreneur Andy Gronik said Tuesday that he hopes to decide “fairly soon” whether to seek the Democratic nomination to run for governor next year.

The political newcomer told The Associated Press that he won’t decide within the next two weeks, but that it won’t be months, either. Gronik is among several Democrats, including those in the business community with no political experience, who are weighing whether to run against Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

Walker is raising money and sending strong signals that he will seek a third term, but he won’t officially announce his decision until this summer.Although Gronik hasn’t decided whether to run, he’s already taking swipes at Walker, saying he’s underperformed as governor. Gronik hit Walker for failing to deliver on his promise to create 250,000 private-sector jobs during his first term, saying he sees no cohesive strategy to grow the economy.
“This isn’t really about blame, this is about performance,” Gronik said. After six years in office, Walker is still about 65,000 jobs short of the promised 250,000. In the private sector, if someone missed their stated goal by that much “he’d get fired,” Gronik said. …

Gronik, 59, is founder and president of Stage W, a Milwaukee-based nonprofit that advocates for “bridging the political divide” to “advance ideas that create good jobs and provide great education throughout Wisconsin.”

Gronik has been talking privately for months about the possibility of getting into the wide-open Democratic race for governor. He’s never run for office before and he’s made minimal campaign donations. He gave $750 to three Democratic candidates for state offices last year, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s online database.

He said his 35 years of experience working for a variety of other companies around the world give him the skills necessary to help the state. The 2014 Democratic nominee for governor, Mary Burke, also came from the business world and had limited political experience.

Voters have had the chance to fire Walker twice for failing to hit his job goal. Notice that he’s still in office, and by the way unemployment in the state (as measured by how the federal government and every state measures it) is the lowest in Wisconsin since 2000. Whining about redistricting doesn’t seem to be connecting with voters either.

Bakken, meanwhile, helped found Nordic Ventures, a health care consultancy, and HealthXVentures. About the former, Bakken will have to answer questions about this unpleasantness if he decides to run.

Oh, wait a minute: Walker does have an opponent:

There is one declared Democratic candidate, Bob Harlow. Harlow, 25, grew up in Barneveld and graduated with a degree in physics last year from Stanford University. He ran for Congress in California last year, but was eliminated in the primary with just 7 percent of the vote against incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo.

Harlow’s platform for governor includes installing a 200 mph high-speed train line throughout the state, a project said he would help create 35,000 jobs, restoring union collective bargaining rights eliminated by Walker, vetoing all new pipeline or mining proposals, guaranteeing health care costs never exceed 9 percent of total income and ensuring that all Wisconsin schools are funded at or above the national per-student average.

Harlow, who has prior experience writing computer software, said he is working at his family’s woodworking business in Barneveld while he raises money and tours the state in his bid for governor.

“Being a third generation Wisconsinite and having a really strong connection with this state, I see a different direction I’d like to see our state move in,” Harlow said.

Being a first-time candidate, Harlow does have one thing in common with another politician from this state, twice-defeated Russ Feingold — bugging out for California instead of staying in Wisconsin. (An early question I would ask Harlow is why he went to Stanford instead of our own world-class UW–Madison.)

It is amusing to read this given the trainwreck that is the state Democratic Party. I suppose anything would be better than their results in 2016, in which they (1) lost the state’s presidential vote to Donald Trump of all people; (2) failed to get Feingold reelected, (3) failed to gain a single congressional seat and (4) saw their numbers in the Legislature shrink even more. Next year in addition to Walker’s impending reelection, they will have to try to keep U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D–Wisconsin) in office in an election that, contrary to what Democrats seem to think, is not going to be a wave election for Democrats, whether you like Walker or his fellow Republicans or not.

 

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