COMMENTARY: Dems must reach back to find Walker opponent
By Kevin Binversie
In a classic bullpen move, Democrats are looking past state Senate recall elections and forward to tagging out the big hitter in Wisconsin politics — Gov. Scott Walker.
But when it comes to finding a candidate to take on Walker, Democrats can’t find a new or younger voice to inspire and rally their team. Instead, old warhorses with long political histories in the Badger State appear to be the preferred candidates for a Walker recall.
Names constantly being tossed around include former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and former U.S. Rep. David Obey. Also in the mix is La Crosse-area Rep. Ron Kind, who is seen as a potential candidate for retiring U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl’s seat.
Each of these potential candidates has immediate pluses and minuses.
Feingold is a much beloved Progressive icon who has legions of devoted supporters after his loss to Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson in November — especially in the greater Madison area. But no one knows for sure if he wants to be a candidate for any political office in 2012. He’s reportedly happy in his post-Senate life teaching at Marquette University’s law school and writing a book about foreign policy. It’s speculated his supporters are more excited about a run than he is.
Barrett comes with built-in name identification as Walker’s gubernatorial opponent in 2010, and February polling from Democratic-polling firm Public Policy Polling showing a do-over between Walker and Barrett had Barrett winning 52 percent to 45 percent. However, Barrett seems more focused on running for his third term as Milwaukee’s mayor than running for governor and could face a tough re-election fight against candidates like Milwaukee Common Council President Willie Hines.
Obey has been pivotal in helping Democrats raise funds and been the party’s de facto figurehead. But at age 72, he’d be one of the oldest Wisconsin governors if elected, and has said he’d only serve out the rest of Walker’s current term, which would make him a lame-duck governor the moment he’s sworn into office. Yet, his biggest liability may be that he’s now a high-powered, Washington, D.C., lobbyist in a party with little tolerance for the profession and may not even be a full-time resident of Wisconsin anymore.
Kind has been contemplating a statewide run for years, and a run for governor would fit that bill. So would a run for the U.S. Senate. Kind’s biggest minus is he’s a total mystery to people outside his congressional district and the biggest media markets in the state of Green Bay and Milwaukee.
All are potential candidates, because they can bring huge name recognition and the potential to raise funds. However, it says a lot about the Wisconsin Democratic Party that it must find leaders from its past to help solidify its short-term future.
When Democrats in Wisconsin suffered immense electoral defeats in 2010, it looked like new legislative leaders would rise up to grasp the mantle of leadership. Instead, they’ve resorted to clinging to the past. Instead of home-growing talent, they’re taking part in the political equivalent of the designated hitter rule.
So does each of these power hitters getting in line to save the angry Left in Wisconsin mean the farm system is as lousy? No bench, no ball game.
Kevin Binversie is a Wisconsin native who has been blogging on the state’s political culture for more than eight years. He has served in the George W. Bush administration from 2007-2009, worked at the Heritage Foundation and has worked on numerous Wisconsin Republican campaigns in various capacities, most recently as research director for Ron Johnson for Senate. Contact him at [email protected].