Steven Walters

Who Will Run Against Walker?

The list of possible candidates isn't long, as discussions at the state Democratic convention made clear.

By - Jun 17th, 2013 10:50 am

The predictable buzz from the state Democratic Party convention was, “Watch out, Gov. Scott Walker. We’re coming for you next year!”

But when the question became exactly who Democrats will field to stop Walker from winning a second term in November 2014, the answer was: “We’ll get back to you…”

Not me, nine-term Congressman Ron Kind of La Crosse announced. He said his sons are still in high school.

Former three-term U.S. Sen. Feingold said the earliest he’d run for anything is 2016—a broad hint that he may then seek a rematch with Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson. It was Feingold’s first speech to a Democratic Party convention since Johnson beat him in 2010.

If Feingold doesn’t run against Johnson in 2016, Kind will.

Many Democrats say they hope a “proven business executive with a record of creating jobs” emerges to challenge a Republican governor who, they say, will fall far short of creating the 250,000 private-sector jobs he promised when he ran in 2010.

That’s Democratspeak for: Please run, Kevin T. Conroy, president/CEO of Exact Sciences of Madison. Conroy is thought to be able to spend at least $2 million of his own money if he runs for governor.

As a favorite of conservatives nationally, Walker will be able to raise all the money he wants next year. And other cash will be scooped up by third-party groups who will independently do all they can to re-elect Walker.

Conroy may be too busy to be the Democratic nominee for governor, however. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported last week that his company has formally asked federal regulators for permission to market a DNA-based, non-invasive colon cancer test.

In a WisconsinEye interview at the convention, Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris said he is close to announcing a run against Walker.

A former Oshkosh mayor, Harris is a let-us-reason-together politician who prefers negotiations and compromise. That may be unacceptable to many angry Democrats whose first goal is Walker payback for all but ending collective bargaining by public employees, except for police officers and firefighters, two years ago.

“I promise to fight like hell,” said party Chairman Mike Tate, who won a third two-year term at the convention. That is not the style of Mark Harris.

Mahlon Mitchell

Mahlon Mitchell

Based on his Democratic convention speech, Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin President Mahlon Mitchell aches to run for governor. Mitchell was the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in the recall elections that Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch won a year ago.

Mitchell was allotted five minutes to fire up convention delegates but blew up the convention timetable by talking much longer. His attacks on Walker brought delegates out of their seats, chanting “Right here! Right now!”

Anyone looking for a sign that Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca of Kenosha wants to run for governor didn’t find it in his convention speech. Instead, Barca appears to be hoping the party finds someone else to run against Walker, although Barca is being asked to consider it.

Veteran Democratic Rep. Fred Kessler of Milwaukee said he asked Democratic Sen. Tim Cullen of Janesville to consider running against Walker.

A former Senate majority leader in the 1980s who then went on to health care careers in government and private business before retiring and returning to the Senate in 2010, Cullen has a grasp of every issue that will dominate the race for governor.

But Kessler said he got no encouragement from Cullen about running for governor. And Cullen’s first decision may be whether to seek re-election to the Senate because he’ll be 70 next year.

Tate told the convention that it’s “a good thing, and by design” that Democrats do not yet have a candidate against Walker.

Why? Because when it becomes obvious which Democrat will challenge Walker, it gives the Republican a “target to shoot at,” Tate added.

In campaigns for Milwaukee County executive, and then the 2010 run for governor, Walker has always won by making himself the “least worst option on the ballot,” Tate explained.

Democrats gave four “rising stars” speaking roles at the convention: Ashland City Councilwoman Kelly Westlund, Manitowoc Mayor Justin Nickels, Dane County Supervisor Shelia Stubbs (the only African-American member of that board) and Racine Mayor John Dickert.

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. This column reflects his personal perspective. Email

3 thoughts on “Who Will Run Against Walker?”

  1. Dohnal(Wis. Conservtive Digest says:

    My info says that if the polls are favorable Kind will run. Cullen would be tough and 70 is not that old.

  2. FightingBobfan says:

    As a Democrat at this point I don’t care to know.

    Any one who would stick their head up right now would get bombarded with millions from billionaires, with the candidate having no money to respond. Bad idea.

    Besides, this would take the attention off of the rotten job Walker and the GOP is doing to the economy. Let that be the focus. I’m not rooting for this. I just know that Walker’s ideology over practicality and his fawning for vulture capitalist money will mean we have as much chance getting out of the economic basement as the Brewers going to the World Series this year.

    I am sure a quality candidate will emerge, especially with the state having a bellyful of Walker’s ineptitude craven pandering by early 2014.

  3. David says:

    They reelected the guy who can only win elections if Obama is on the ballot to be chair again? The Democratic Party of Wisconsin is doomed.

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