The field of potential challengers to Gov. Scott Walker in the 2014 election got a little slimmer over the weekend. Two of the state’s most prominent Democrats confirmed they weren’t interested in running for governor next year.
First, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, who has represented much of western Wisconsin since 1997, closed the door on speculation that he would step up to the challenge.
The speculation has existed since before Walker was elected in 2010, and was based on the perception that Kind’s well-established ambition for higher office, telegenic face, moderate voting record and ties to rural Wisconsin would give him a good shot at winning a general election.
Kind told the Wisconsin Radio Network, however, that he wanted to focus on his responsibilities as a congressman, citing specifically what he believes is a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to enact comprehensive tax reform.
“I don’t think I’m going to be a candidate but we gotta find someone who can be,” he said.
Russ Feingold — easily the favorite of state progressives — could be. But he won’t be.
"I don't come to you tonight as a candidate, at least not in 2013 or 2014, or 2015," the former senator told the Democratic faithful at the party’s annual convention this weekend in Oconomowoc.
What he is suggesting, of course, is that he is still considering a run for Senate in 2016 against the man who unseated him in 2010, Republican Ron Johnson.
Although Feingold has been a vocal opponent of much of Walker’s agenda since returning to private life in 2011, much of his focus has been on national or international affairs.
He founded an organization, Progressives United, which advocates for campaign finance reform and he authored a book, “While America Sleeps,” a critique of post-9/11 foreign policy. Such endeavors suggest he yearns to get back into the debate in Washington, rather than to return to statehouse politics.
Furthermore, there are a number of reasons why Feingold would have a better shot at winning back his Senate seat than winning the governorship.
First, Johnson, despite his personal wealth, is not likely to enjoy a great financial advantage over his Democratic opponent, at least not to the same extent as Walker will over his. Johnson will likely be a top target for Democrats nationally and the Democratic nominee can count on support from the national Democratic apparatus — something that is not a sure thing in the governor's race.
Second, 2016 will be a presidential election year, a situation that typically favors Democrats. Feingold lost his seat in 2010 largely due to poor turnout from Democratic voters and a wave of energized Republican voters -- meaning the electorate was disproportionately conservative. It is unclear what the dynamics of the 2014 election will be, but there's a fair chance that, like most midterm elections, it will favor Republicans.
So who might take on Walker? Names being floated include Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha; Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma; and Madison businessman Kevin Conroy.