Doug La Follette also has served as secretary of state since 1982 and is the only Democrat in Wisconsin now serving in a statewide elected office.
“It’s always good to have a recognizable name, and I’ve been elected statewide several times, so not only is my name well known, but I’m well known,” he said.
La Follette said he intends Thursday to file the necessary paperwork with the Government Accountability Board, the state’s election agency, to set up a possible run against Walker.
But neither is well known, according to poll results released Wednesday from Marquette Law School in Milwaukee that measured Wisconsinites' opinions on various topics, such as the 2012 elections and "John Doe" investigation.
Forty-seven percent of poll respondents had not heard enough about Falk to form an opinion, according to the poll. But of those who had an opinion, 22 percent approve of Falk, and 28 percent don’t.
For Vinehout, 68 percent of people polled had not heard enough about her to have an opinion. Of those who had an opinion, 9 percent approve of her, and 14 percent disapprove.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who lost to Walker in 2010 and is said to be considering running in a recall, had the best numbers: 30 percent favored; 27 percent did not. But, even for Barrett, 40 percent of those polled didn’t know enough about him to form an opinion.
“I think that this is where a primary could actually help Democrats … by letting voters focus on a choice in that primary, which helps them pay attention to the candidates, make up their minds about who they want to support,” said University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist Charles Franklin,who is conducting this series of monthly polls for Marquette in 2012.
February’s poll of 716 Wisconsin registered voters and eligible voters who said they would register by Election Day was conducted Feb. 16-19 via land lines and cell phones. The poll’s margin of error is 3.7 percent.
Respondents weren’t asked their opinion of the secretary of state, which La Follette said he hopes will change.
“I need to get my name in the polls, and I need to find out what the response would be to see if I would be the strong candidate we need to defeat Walker,” he said.
Concerns for Republicans
Rick Santorum is the sole Republican presidential candidate in the poll whose favorable rating, 30 percent, is greater than his unfavorable rating, 27 percent — although significant numbers of respondents indicated they “hadn’t heard enough” about the GOP candidates to form an opinion.
Walker’s “unfavorable” numbers are up: 46 percent said they favored the governor this month, down from 51 percent in January; and 48 percent said they disfavored him this month, up from 46 percent in January.
Walker has made business-friendly legislation a staple of his administration, arguing that issues such as tax breaks for businesses that locate in Wisconsin and tort reform will encourage job growth.
According to the poll, 41 percent believe “legislation passed in the last year reducing regulation and offering incentives to businesses to stay in the state or move here” has had no effect on job creation. Another 34 percent think the bills have added jobs. Sixteen percent say the legislation decreased jobs.
“That’s an issue that’s certainly at the center of the governor’s policies over the last year, and it’s not necessarily pointing in a positive direction right now,” Franklin said.
The February poll asked Wisconsinites about the proposed Gogebic Taconite LLC open-pit iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties, and about their knowledge of the ongoing John Doe investigation, which has led to charges against people who worked for Walker while the governor was a Dane County executive.
Supporters of the proposed mine say the estimated 600 to 700 jobs it would bring are desperately needed for the area, where unemployment rates consistently are among the highest in the state.
Critics worry that legislation aimed at streamlining the permitting process does too little to protect water and air quality.
Fifty-two percent approve of the mine, 33 percent disapprove, 5 percent haven’t heard about it, and 10 percent didn’t know if they liked the proposal or not.
In Hurley, though — near where the mine would be located — Sharon Ofstad said she believes support is much higher.
As owner of Sharon’s Coffee Co., Ofstad said she hears consistently positive opinions on the proposed open pit iron ore mine from locals, tourists, even her own.
Ofstad, 48, is the daughter and niece of former miners.
“That’s how the town was built; it was the mining and the logging industry,” she said.
“The only reason my father quit the mine was because of the unions,” she said. “Every time they had to do arbitration, they’d go on strike.”
Seventy-two percent have heard of the John Doe investigation. Fifty-two percent believe it’s “really something serious,” versus 40 percent who see it as “just more politics.”
“There’s no telling” how that will turn out, Franklin said.
Walker has not been accused of any wrongdoing and said he is cooperating with the state District Attorney’s Office. But the investigation, which has led to charges and a conviction of Walker's former aides, is ongoing.