Wisconsin state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, has made no secret of her interest in running for governor, but on Thursday she described how she is already actively campaigning to gather support for a likely candidacy.
“I will be making my decision after the first of the year but every single day I get closer and find more people who are willing to help (my campaign),” she said on the “Drive Home with Sly” radio program (WEKZ-AM).
The host, John “Sly” Sylvester, responded: “That sounds a little more committal than you have sounded in the past, you said you are actively going out and looking for support?”
“Absolutely, yes, and I have been in the month of October, I've found a lot of people who are willing to help, I'm talking about running a grassroots campaign, a campaign that would involve people all over the state, putting their time and energy into what I think a lot of people want to do, which is get rid of this governor.”
Vinehout has been ramping up her campaign schedule recently. She hosted an event at the Harmony Bar on Madison’s eastside on Friday, a town hall meeting Saturday morning near Antigo; another town hall in the afternoon in Rhinelander; and she is coming back to Madison on Sunday for a “meet and greet” at the Chocolaterian Café on Atwood Ave.
Although the second term senator did not specifically mention Mary Burke, the only currently declared Democratic candidate, she made a veiled reference to Burke's hesitation to take firm stands on major issues.
"I think people are very tired of the 'I'm not going to say anything' talking points,” she said. “They want a candidate who will answer the questions, take positions on the issues and be available to the public."
Vinehout also took a swipe at the state Democratic Party, which actively encouraged and is now aggressively promoting Burke's candidacy.
"I know that there's conventional wisdom at the top of the Democratic Party that the only way we can win is to raise lots of money and run lots of TV ads,” she said. “I believe that type of thinking is wrong."
The Democrats, said Vinehout, are making the mistake of trying to play by the money-driven rules established by corporate-funded Republicans. To win, she said, Democrats have to “turn the conventional wisdom on its head.”
Skeptics of Vinehout point out that her attempt to run a small-money campaign in last year's recall resulted in her garnering a measly four percent of the vote in the Democratic primary. And party strategists are worried that Vinehout vacating the Senate to run for governor could result in the GOP winning the western Wisconsin seat next year.
While calling Vinehout a “phenomenal public servant and intellectual heavyweight,” state Democratic Party chair Mike Tate expressed concern that she would be able to mount an effective campaign, adding that it would be a “great loss to the people of Wisconsin” if she weren’t still in public office in January of 2015.
"The reality is that while we will never have as much money as Scott Walker it is not realistic to believe you can defeat him without running a serious, professional campaign that raises enough money to get the Democratic message out,” Tate said in a statement. “The stakes are too high for our families that are struggling under Scott Walkers policies for anyone to attempt a bid for Governor that will not and cannot raise the money needed to run a grassroots campaign that can communicate with voters at their door, via television, direct mail and the Internet. Modern times require modern campaigns."
Vinehout supporters argue that she has a better chance this year than she did during the short time frame before the recall election, when Democrats were scrambling to unite behind a candidate who could beat Gov. Scott Walker.
The evidence is clear at the national level that Democrats can win by raising a lot of money, often from the same sources as Republicans. One needs to look no further than President Barack Obama, who crushed campaign finance records in both of his two campaigns for president. And Sen. Tammy Baldwin's victory over Tommy Thompson last year is largely attributed to the financial advantage she gained from avoiding the type of bruising primary that sapped Thompson's resources before the general election.
Vinehout's comments, however, suggest that she believes that the problem with money in campaigns extends beyond elections and results in the type of pervasive governing that has turned off people across the state and country.
“The more I talk to people and listen to what they're saying, I believe we are at a time, perhaps a tipping point in our history where, one thing we can all agree on, no matter what your political persuasion, people hate money in politics,” she said.
“How do you get money out of politics? You beat it.”