After hinting for weeks that he would run for governor, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin officially entered the crowded primary field of Democratic candidates challenging Gov. Scott Walker Wednesday with a couple of announcement events.
At his third campaign speech of the day, at the Park Hotel on the Capitol Square in downtown Madison, Soglin named his strategy to garner votes across the state as the “supper club campaign.”
“I will be in the diners and wherever we find Wisconsinites, and I will be listening to them and answering their questions,” Soglin said. “I think that’s the way to campaign in Wisconsin is to go where the people are in basically an unstructured environment where everyone can be open and speak their mind and I’ll be listening.”
Soglin officially announced his campaign with an email released Wednesday morning and followed up with visits to Waukesha, Milwaukee and Madison.
Though he previously said he had no interest in running for governor, Soglin announced he would consider the position last June at the state Democratic convention. Soglin has attributed his changed mindset to the popularity of Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary.
Supporters of Soglin have pointed out the similarities between the mayor and Sanders including age, demographics of supporters, background and experience. However, Soglin’s presence as the longtime mayor of Wisconsin's capital city and liberal stronghold could be a liability when looking for support outside Dane County.
Soglin said Wednesday that Wisconsin voters choose competency, trust and leadership when supporting a candidate for governor. He believes his long tenure as Madison’s mayor — serving from 1973–1979, 1989–1997 and 2011 to the present — make him a strong candidate.
“I’m going on 21, 22 years as mayor and with that I bring the ability to fashion solutions, implement them and deliver on the result,” Soglin said.
At 72, Soglin is the oldest candidate running against Walker. He first joined Madison politics in 1968, when he served on the City Council after gaining notoriety as a University of Wisconsin-Madison student leading demonstrations for the Civil Rights movement and against the Vietnam War.
Former Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, who defeated Soglin in 2003 and lost to him in 2011, said he thinks Soglin will be competitive despite the challenges of running as a leader from Madison.
“He has a built in base of voters in Madison and in a highly fragmented field, even a small base is a big advantage,” Cieslewicz said. “I'm convinced that the Democrats are better off with a big, diverse field.”
So far that field includes former state Rep. Kelda Roys, Sen. Kathleen Vinehout of Alma, Rep. Dana Wachs of Eau Claire, Madison firefighter Mahlon Mitchell and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers.
Evers announced on Wednesday that his campaign is endorsed by former Madison Mayors Sue Bauman and Joel Skornicka.
Soglin estimated he needs 20 to 25 percent of the vote to win the primary election. Apart from his name recognition in Madison, Soglin said generations of Wisconsinites passed through the city since he was a student.
“They are now scattered throughout the state and that’s not to be overlooked,” Soglin said.
'What does Scott Walker have?'
In his campaign statement, Soglin criticized Walker for supporting the federal tax overhaul, changing voter ID law, ending equal pay protections and the state’s failure to implement high speed internet under his administration.
Reinforcing his opposition to the nearly $4 billion in tax breaks for the Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn to move to Wisconsin, Soglin said the money could have been spent on schools, transportation, universities and small businesses.
He also touted his own experience in the private sector, which includes stints as an attorney, a project manager for Epic Systems, and government relations consultant.
“I’ve been negotiating partnerships with the private sector for many years now and, in fact, I’ve been on both sides of those agreements,” Soglin said during his speech. “I’ve got 25 years of experience in the private sector. What does Scott Walker have?”
Shortly after Soglin released his campaign announcement Wednesday morning, Walker responded on Twitter, saying that the “last thing we need is more Madison in our lives.”
“(Soglin) is the latest extreme liberal who wants to take our state backward -- just like he did in Madison, where businesses have left and murders have gone up,” Walker said. “We want to go forward.”
On economic development, Soglin said Madison’s success is “far superior” to the rest of the state. The unemployment rate in Madison is at 2.1 percent, below the statewide average of 3.2 percent, according to November 2017 Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
“We are the ones who are making him look good, and he better say ‘thank you,’” Soglin said.
While Walker’s campaign knocked Soglin and Madison Wednesday, his jobs agency released an ad featuring views of young people enjoying Madison meant to persuade Chicago residents to move to Wisconsin.
Soglin acknowledged what works in one part of the state may not be successful in another, but he said there are common attributes that can be replicated including investing in an “intelligent workforce,” creating a community where families want to raise children and recreational opportunities.
On violence, Madison has not had a homicide since August, which Soglin attributed to a focused Madison Police Department initiative and efforts to engage those caught up in the cycle of violence to minimize retaliation. The mayor also introduced a public-health approach as a strategy to addressing and preventing violence.
Soglin’s seat and all 20 City Council districts are up for reelection in the spring of 2019. Soglin has not said if he would run again for mayor.