Can Dems hold out for a hero in Walker recall?
Over the weekend, New Hampshire’s largest newspaper, the Union Leader of Manchester, endorsed Newt Gingrich for President. After months of slogging anonymously through Rotary Clubs in Cedar Rapids while his co-candidates took turns winning (then losing) the Republican spotlight, Gingrich must be relishing this moment, especially so close to January 10, the date of the New Hampshire primary.
It’s a tough spot to be in. No one in the running flutters the hearts of the Republican base, and time is running out. With the first primary less than two months away, the party is still (quietly) casting a net for someone else to jump in; someone whose very presence will pose a serious threat to Barack Obama’s presidency. They better hurry.
Back here in Wisconsin, Democrats might keep their eyes open for a teachable moment in the Republicans’ high-profile floundering. As the Walker recall surges forward – with a reported 300,000 signatures collected in just two weeks – it’s hard to say yet whether the Dems have an ace up their sleeve with a strong Walker challenger. Mike Tate, Chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin (DPW), recently told the Wisconsin State Journal “We don’t have a candidate right now, and we are very comfortable with that.”
I can see where it’s good strategy for now to keep the focus on the recall itself and off of one individual. But only time will tell how far Dems can – and should – be expected to travel in support of an idea. There’s bipartisan consensus that the required signatures will be gathered. The Democratic Party has already begun raising money, with nearly $1 million collected from 41,000 donors by the DPW on Act Blue alone. For the moment, the momentum seems to be favoring the recall, with 58 percent of Wisconsin voters believing Governor Walker should be removed from office, according to last week’s Wisconsin Public Radio/St. Norbert’s College poll.
The same poll, however, states that 43 percent of those surveyed feel Wisconsin is going in the right direction, and that number is UP from 38 percent in the spring. Nationwide, with Congress’ approval rating at an all-time low of just 9 percent (4 percent higher than Fidel Castro), it’s a vast understatement to say that the electorate is unhappy with both parties, and whoever runs against Walker better be a person who can inspire bipartisan confidence right out of the gate and doesn’t leave the Democrats campaigning primarily on the “not Walker” platform.
A field of potentials is already taking shape. The man most likely to beat Scott Walker, Russ Feingold, has firmly declined. David Obey would consider it, but only if there’s no primary. Herb Kohl, Tom Barrett, Ron Kind and Peter Barca are mum, while Kathleen Falk, Jon Erpenbach and dark horse Mahlon Mitchell are courting cameras. They’re all good Democrats, but are any of them electrifying? The answer, at least so far, is not really, for various individual reasons. And that could be a problem as the recall moves forward.
It’s early yet, with six weeks left to collect signatures and who knows how long to verify them before a date is set for the special election; some are predicting June or July for that. If the Dems are smart, they’ll announce their candidate fast, while the petitions are still being verified. And they will choose someone who, if not a rock star among Progressives, at least has limited baggage.
In a perfect world, that candidate would also be able to articulate a powerful vision of a post-Walker Wisconsin and win the hearts, minds and votes of the uncertain masses. And once elected, to act on that vision.
Yes, the Democratic Party has a tall order on its hands, and there are lessons to be learned from the GOP’s presidential dilemma. Here in Wisconsin, they might do well to take notes.