SOGLIN (copy)

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin


As Madison Mayor Paul Soglin prepares to launch a campaign for Wisconsin governor, he is set to follow in the footsteps of the Republican mayor he ousted in 1973.

Bill Dyke was the last mayor of Wisconsin's capital city to run for governor. He lost to Democrat Patrick Lucey in 1974, gaining 42 percent of the vote. Just one year earlier, a 27-year-old Soglin mobilized college students to help him defeat Dyke, a conservative who led Madison during the Vietnam War. 

Dyke's unsuccessful gubernatorial bid came in the shadows of the Watergate scandal — a bad time for Republicans to run in statewide races, former Gov. Tommy Thompson told the Wisconsin State Journal when Dyke died in 2016. 

Soglin, who is now serving in his 20th nonconsecutive year as mayor, told the Cap Times last week that he will make an official announcement about his gubernatorial intentions the second week of January.

"The way things stand now, unless something very unusual takes place, the announcement will be yes," Soglin said.

If elected, Soglin would be the first mayor to go on to lead Wisconsin in six decades. 

Vernon Wallace Thomson, a Republican who served as governor from 1957 to 1959, launched his political career as mayor of Richland Center from 1944 to 1951. He went on to serve as a member of the state Assembly and as attorney general before he was elected governor. 

Only six of Wisconsin's governors were mayors before they led the state, and just one was a mayor of Madison. Albert G. Schmedeman was Madison's mayor from 1926 to 1932, after a stint as United States Minister to Norway. A Democrat, Schmedeman was elected governor in 1933 and served one two-year term.

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Since Soglin was first elected to the Madison Common Council in 1968, just three Wisconsin mayors have made the ballot in gubernatorial races, starting with Dyke in 1974.

In 2002, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett sought the Democratic nomination for governor, but lost in the primary election to then-Attorney General Jim Doyle. Doyle defeated Republican then-Gov. Scott McCallum by a margin of about four points. Ed Thompson, the Libertarian mayor of Tomah (and brother to Tommy), earned about 10 percent of the vote that year. 

Barrett ran again in 2010, this time to be defeated by about six points by now-Gov. Scott Walker. He lost again to Walker in 2012 as the Republican became the first U.S. governor to survive a recall election.

Soglin wrote on Facebook on Tuesday that he plans to formally announce his candidacy "in a few weeks."

He would join a large Democratic field seeking to challenge Walker that includes state Superintendent Tony Evers, Milwaukee attorney Matt Flynn, Milwaukee businessman Andy Gronik, political activist Mike McCabe, union head Mahlon Mitchell, Alma Sen. Kathleen Vinehout and Eau Claire Rep. Dana Wachs. Former state Rep. Kelda Roys of Madison is also expected to launch a campaign soon.

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.