One large question looming over Wisconsin politics was answered Tuesday with more than 1 million petition signatures submitted to the state in the recall effort against Gov. Scott Walker, but it left another question unanswered: Who would challenge the governor should a recall election happen?
With no candidates giving the official nod and media reports speculating over a very long list of candidates, Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chairman Mike Tate said at a press conference Tuesday that his party is leaning toward holding a primary.
"You'll have candidates traveling across the state for six or plus weeks," Tate said. "I think it will be a positive campaign focused on Scott Walker's failures."
The Government Accountability Board — the state agency that oversees elections — has 31 days, but says it will go to court to ask for an extension, to vet the more than 1 million petition signatures in the Walker recall effort, 845,000 in the recall effort against Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and more than 80,000 signatures for four state lawmakers. Meanwhile, the next step for the state Democratic Party is likely to select a candidate.
Poll pegs top candidates to challenge Walker
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and former U.S. Rep. David Obey top the list of challengers, according to a Public Policy Forum poll released Tuesday.
The poll has Barrett pegged as the frontrunner to challenge Walker, with results having him leading Falk 46 to 27 percent and Obey 42 to 30 percent in a potential head-to-head race.
Additionally, the poll said if Barrett didn't throw his hat into the race, Obey would have a better likelihood of being nominated than Falk. The poll also said Barrett has a better name recognition than Falk and that core Democrats prefer Barrett over Falk, Barrett over Obey and Obey over Falk.
Supporters of the recall effort against Walker said they are still hoping former congressmen Russ Feingold and current U.S. Senator Herb Kohl, who both have repeatedly said they are not interested in running, decide to join the race, but they will support nearly any candidate the Democratic Party decides to tap.
Other names floating around in the candidate pool include former U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, Madison firefighter and Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin President Mahlon Mitchell, current Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette and state Sen. Tim Cullen (D-Janesville).
Supporters prefer Kohl, Feingold
Recall supporter Tom Kojis said he liked to see Obey run against Walker in a gubernatorial recall race.
"He knows how to play the game," Kojis, who is from Green Bay, said. "He's been around forever, he has got a lot of experience.
"Though, he doesn't have a lot of name recognition across the state."
Obey told the Journal Sentinel in October he would consider a run against Walker, but that Barrett and Kohl would make better candidates.
Walker recall supporter Kathy Lefebvere from Green Bay, said she thinks the Democrats need to pick someone who can appeal to the independent voter.
"I don't think candidates like Dave Obey...Kathleen Falk are well known and aren't aggressive," she said. "We need someone aggressive that appeals to a variety of people, and that's Herb Kohl."
Voters' minds already made up, but Barrett is best challenger
Dennis Dresang, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Wisconsin's La Follette School of Public Affairs, said when it comes down to it, it doesn't matter who the Democrats place against Walker because most voters made up their minds about a year ago, amidst Walker introducing ACT 10, or the budget repair bill, which curtailed collective bargaining rights for most public employees.
However, another political science professor, John Adams of Marquette University, said he sees Barrett as the Democrats’ best option at unseating Walker.
“Barrett may have the least baggage among the candidates,” Adams said. “He is known as a nice guy and has statewide name recognition.”
In the November 2010 election, Walker defeated Barrett by about 124,000 votes — or 6 percentage points. Also, in 2002, Barrett, who was then a congressman, ran in the Democratic gubernatorial primary but lost to Jim Doyle, who served two terms as governor.
And, the Journal Sentinel’s Dan Bice reported recently that leaders of two major public employee unions met privately with Barrett to urge him not to run in a recall election.
Adams says unions aren’t backing Barrett because he criticized Walker’s budget repair bill, then used the reforms to balance the City of Milwaukee’s budget.
Barrett was expected to make an announcement in early January, of his plans to run. However, no candidates have officially announced their intentions to run.
Adams said he believes Barrett ultimately will decide against challenging Walker citing a record of flip-flopping.
Asking Barrett to back out, union leaders are backing Falk to run, and believe she would have a better chance to win a race against Walker, the newspaper said.
It's still unclear who would challenge for the lieutenant governor office, should an election occur.
Cindy Schelcun of Stevens Point said she would like to see Falk and Mitchell challenge for governor and lieutenant governor respectively.
According to a Capital Times report, Falk and Mitchell attended recall events Tuesday together and Falk called it a "good use of my time."
"I hope we can unite behind one candidate so we can get going with the campaign, and hit the ground running again," Schelcun said.