Wow. One million signatures.

Who could have guessed that one of the two entrenched American political parties — the one that claims the president of the most powerful nation on earth as one of its own and marshaled some $23.4 million in campaign spending for last year's wave of recall elections — would ever have the money and logistical wherewithal to gather 1 million signatures to recall a member of the other entrenched American political party?

What a victory for democracy. Or should I say Democrat-acy?

With the notable and laudable exception of the effort to recall Sen. Scott Fitzgerald — which had little support from the state Democratic party — last week's delivery of signatures to recall Gov. Scott Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and three other state senators was less grassroots than choreographed by a massive, powerful, well-funded political organization. 

Which is not to say Wisconsin's Democratic party doesn't deserves props — at least if you're into cheering on massive, powerful, well-funded political organizations. 

More important than any of that, though, is that 2012 is shaping up to be a fun — and brutal and expensive and dirty — election year. My question now is: Given that we've never had a recall election for governor, what, exactly, could one look like?

Once the signatures are verified, how long will the campaign last? Will debates be held and positions staked out? Or will the Democrats looking to replace Walker simply run on a platform of I'm-not-Walker-so-vote-for-me?

The conventional wisdom among some academics and Democrats to this last question, is no, a recall election is likely to focus only on the recall target; the less opportunity the target has to make his potential replacement a target, the better.

"It does make a lot of sense to keep the focus on Walker," said UW-Madison political science professor Barry Burden. "Democrats are in a better position if it is a 'referendum' rather than a 'choice' between two candidates."

UW-Milwaukee political science professor and former Democratic state legislator Mordecai Lee put it more succinctly: For Democrats, "the perfect candidate would be a potted plant."

Obviously, potted plants aren't very fair to voters, who might prefer to have some idea about where Walker's potential replacements stand on a number of issues — not just the issues that are making Walker a recall target in the first place.

I'm not sure where officials with the state Democratic Party stand on the potted plant strategy because they didn't respond to my messages.

Walker, though, according campaign spokeswoman Ciara Matthews, will approach a potential recall "like a normal campaign." He will talk about what he's done and what he plans to do and contrast himself with his opponent, although she said she hasn't spoken with him about debating.

"It will be an election," she said, "a choice between two candidates."

There are signs that at least some of the Democratic candidates could do the same.

Former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, the only declared Democratic challenger as of Friday, told me she would debate fellow Democratic primary opponents and Walker, as well as talk about her stances on a variety of issues.

State Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, who has said he plans to run, said he wouldn't be a "credible candidate" if all he did was criticize Walker and, like Falk, would be happy to debate Walker and other Democrats and talk about issues beyond those driving the recall.

"I assume that it will unfold like all other elections," he said.

If a lot more quickly. State Government Accountability Board spokesman Reid Magney said a primary election, if necessary, would be held six Tuesdays from the date the agency validates petition signatures, and the general election four weeks after that.

The willingness to make a real campaign of a short recall campaign is encouraging to people like me. 

I think the recall effort is a lot of sound and fury over mere differences in ideology, but I'm not going to let that stop me from voting for a better person for governor — should one surface.

Candidate Not-Walker, though, is not that person.

Contact Chris Rickert at 608-252-6198 or crickert@madison.com, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisRickertWSJ). His column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

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