It was not that long ago when it seemed each new day brought on the announcement of another potential Democratic challenger stating that they would in fact “not” challenge sitting Gov. Scott Walker in the November 2018 election.
Democratic insiders were getting nervous while Republicans enjoyed the frequent routine of potential top tier candidates publicly stating they had no intention of running. While some argue that during that time frame every potential tier one Democratic candidate bowed out, there has certainly been a complete turnaround in Democrats motivated to run against Walker.
Is there a favorite? The short answer is no. The field is wide-open and no one has emerged yet. Sitting State Superintendent Tony Evers is the only one who has been on a statewide ballot and some will suggest that alone puts him in the front runner seat. But since filing registration papers Evers has been relatively quiet (he hasn’t officially announced yet) and it’s unclear if he can raise the funds necessary to be competitive.
Current state Assemblyman Dana Wachs has been active, but an Eau Claire area representative has a long way to go to show Dane and Milwaukee County Democrats that he can be a legitimate threat to topple Walker. In addition, oftentimes northern legislators are not as liberal as their Dane County counterparts coming out of a primary where Dane County comprises so much of the vote a tougher task. That said, the virtually unknown Susan Happ did emerge from a Democratic primary for attorney general in 2014 from Jefferson County beating candidates from Milwaukee and Madison.
Andy Gronik was the first legitimate private sector entrant followed soon after by Michelle Doolan and then this week by Sheboygan business owner Kent Kober (not officially in). Other potential candidates include state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma), who has been flirting with entering the race for about a year but has yet to get in, longer than longshot former Wisconsin Democracy Campaign leader Mike McCabe, and Madison Mayor Paul Soglin.
All told there are currently 12 (12!) Democratic candidates who have registered paperwork to begin a campaign for governor in Wisconsin. If you are an average voter in Green Bay or Kenosha, you probably wouldn’t recognize the name of any of them, and if the field stays this large it could be really difficult to separate yourself from the pack. Which is why fundraising will be so important and those candidates who are willing to put in their own money should gain a significant advantage.
It can be argued that primaries can either improve or hurt a candidate’s overall chances in a general election. The primary puts the focus on the challengers and away from the incumbent, and the winner gets a bump in statewide name identification that comes with the recognition that they are a winner. On the flip side, resources, especially in this case, are finite and it will take millions to win this primary leaving the eventual winner with a bank account far behind the governor.
With so many unknown candidates and a wide open shot it should make for a very entertaining race. As it develops we will highlight those candidates. But for now, we’re just learning their names.