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Experts: No recall candidate? No problem for Democrats

By   /   December 5, 2011  /   No Comments

By Kirsten Adshead | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — The Democratic Party of Wisconsin doesn’t have a candidate to take on Gov. Scott Walker in a recall election — and doesn’t need one yet, political analysts said Monday.

“The Democratic Party right now, even though it’s their talking point, I think it’s true —  they’re focused on the recall (petition drive) right now,” University of Wisconsin-Green Bay political scientistTimothy Dale said.

United Wisconsin, the political action committee heading up the recall effort, said last week that petitioners had collected more than 300,000 of the 540,208 signatures needed to trigger a recall, with a month and a half remaining before the petitions are due to the Government Accountability Board, or GAB, for verification. The GAB oversees the state’s elections.

The GAB said a recall would be scheduled for late spring or early summer, depending on how long it takes to verify the signatures and whether any legal challenges occur.

Republicans have their own idea as to why a Democratic candidate hasn’t come forward.

“It’s clear that Big Labor is working hard to hand-pick a candidate that befits their failed agenda to move Wisconsin back to the failed policies of the past,” Republican Party of Wisconsin communications director Ben Sparks said in an email.

Democratic Party of Wisconsin spokesman Graeme Zielinski declined to answer questions.

But Sachin Chheda, chairman of the Democratic Party of Milwaukee County, said Wisconsinites, including Democrats, independents and Republicans, are tired of partisan bickering.

“What the people of Wisconsin are looking for is someone who can articulate a set of priorities and set of values around which the state can build consensus … somebody who can unite the state around a common vision,” he said

Recall petitioners need to collect the number of signatures equal to 25 percent of the vote in the 2010 gubernatorial election — about 540,000 valid signatures.

Recall experts say Wisconsin’s requirements are among the toughest in the country.

“If the recall drive right now is successful, that means you have a very vulnerable governor,” Dale said.

The Democrat’s lack of an announced candidate has only led to speculation as to who  will — and should — be picked for the job.

“I think it’s been amazingly silent,” state Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, said to WCLO radio talk show host Tim Bremel on Nov. 21.

Several candidates have been suggested, “but no one’s stepped forward,” Cullen said. “And I think that’s something that ought to happen.”

Cullen didn’t return phone calls from Wisconsin Reporter seeking comment.

Last Friday, Cullen himself stepped forward, announcing to several media outlets that he is interested in running against Walker.

Cullen joins a long list of potential Democratic candidates who have expressed varying degrees of interest, but analysts said there’s no clear favorite beyond former U.SSen. Russ Feingold, of Middleton, who repeatedly has asserted that he will not run for any office in 2012.

And most of those considered likely candidates have potential problems as well.

Cullen is a former Senate majority leader, who was a Blue Cross/Blue Shield executive from 1998 through 2007, before seeking re-election in 2010.

He recently has toured the state with state Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, touting bipartisanship. Schultz did not return messages seeking comment.

“He would represent turning away from the hyper-partisan, polarization and towards someone who at least represents himself as a more moderate, a more conciliatory kind of guy,” said University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist Charles Franklin.

But that may not sit well with anti-Walker activists who want someone with more fire, Franklin said.

Other candidates, such as former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, are well-known among party activists, but lack statewide name recognition, Dale said, noting that Democrats might prefer a candidate from outside the Madison and Milwaukee areas.

Former U.S. Rep. Dave Obey, of Wausau, who served Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District, and retiring U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, of Milwaukee, are possibilities, even as potential placeholder candidates until the next gubernatorial election in 2014, but at most have expressed limited interest.

And then there’s Feingold, the longtime progressive senator who lost his seat to Ron Johnson of Oshkosh as part of last year’s conservative wave.

His fan club is ardent, imploring him to “Run, Russ, run.”

So far, his refusals have been adamant.

But Dale said he thinks a Feingold candidacy is possible.

“If there’s a united voice calling for someone to run, it’s hard for me to imagine somebody turning that down,” Dale said.

Franklin, whom Marquette Law School has tapped to lead of series of polls next year on voter attitudes in Wisconsin, said, “If Russ Feingold had said he wanted to run, I think you’d have a (Democratic) candidate (announced).”

“But I think the reality of the situation is they don’t have a consensus candidate and to name one at a time when they’re not really ready to campaign. … would kind of make them a target of the governor’s advertising during this petition period,” he said.

Franklin said he believes the petition drive will be successful, but the identity of the Democratic candidate may decide the election.

Walker supporters will back the governor, and many of Walker’s critics will vote for anyone who takes on the governor, Franklin said. But independents will care who Walker’s replacement would be.

“When we talk about replacing a governor, we are inherently talking about what he’s done on the budget repair bill, but we’re also talking about everything else he’s done, both good and bad,” Franklin said. “And when you look to replace him with some other candidate, you inherently have to ask, ‘Will that other candidate be better?'”

If a recall is held, Democrats could be forced to hold a primary if multiple candidates step forward.

Dale said he thinks Democrats will prefer to avoid a public bout of infighting.

Franklin said a primary would be surprising.

But then, he noted, it’s been a year of political surprises.