Wis. Democrats Can't Find Candidate Who Can Challenge Walker

Monday, 28 Nov 2011 03:29 PM

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Democrats and union members have fanned out across Wisconsin with petitions to recall Gov. Scott Walker, but their dance cards are missing a key element: They don’t have a strong candidate to challenge him.

Political observers insist that opponents will need a strong alternative to have any chance at toppling the controversial freshman Republican governor, according to a report in the Wisconsin State Journal.

“At stake is more than just the recall election,” reports the daily newspaper in the state capital. “Pick the wrong candidate and the Democrats run the risk of not only re-energizing the state GOP but also weakening President Barack Obama's chances to take Wisconsin in his re-election bid next year.”

Larry Sabato, a national political expert and director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, told the State Journal: "If they end up scheduling that recall to run in November, you better believe the White House will demand they field a strong candidate. You can't put just anyone up there against a standing governor and expect them to win. That's not going to happen."

The recall effort arose from Democratic and union anger at Walker’s budget-cutting measures in February and March. The cuts, including curbing public employees’ collective-bargaining rights, prompted demonstrations at the Capitol and an exodus of Democratic senators to avoid voting on Walker’s proposals.

They also propelled recall elections against six Republicans and three Democrats during the summer. Four of the Republicans retained their seats in those elections, an outcome that stood as a major victory for Walker because it kept the GOP in control of the state Senate, as Newsmax reported. Republicans also control the state Assembly.

Recall petition organizers, who began their effort on Nov. 15 to collect the 540,208 signatures they need by Jan. 13, reported on Monday that they had amassed more than 300,000 John Hancocks in their first 12 days.

That petition juggernaut almost ensures that the recall election will take place, observers in the Badger State say. Recall campaigns also are in the works against Republican Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four Republican state senators.

Walker and his supporters have launched pre-emptive strikes with TV commercials defending his record that began airing during a Green Bay Packers-Minnesota Vikings game just hours before his opponents began soliciting signatures.

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He and his supporters can try to halt a recall election, or delay it for months, with challenges to the validity of petition signatures. The earliest that state law would allow an election take place, with no challenges or other delays, is March 27.

The Republican Party also is mobilizing across the state, the party's executive director, Stephan Thompson, told The Associated Press. Republicans are preparing for an election even though they are fighting to prevent it, Thompson said.

"I have little doubt the Democrats are going to be able to get the signatures," he acknowledged.

If the Democrats muster the signatures, their next hurdle is fielding a formidable candidate for the inevitable war of words and money.

Democrats are focusing more now on getting signatures than settling on a candidate, the State Journal noted. "We don't have a candidate right now, and we are very comfortable with that," Party Chairman Mike Tate told the State Journal.

Recall organizers don't want to give Walker a target at this point, Tate said.

Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold dealt the party’s hopes a blow when he announced he would not run. The 18-year Senate veteran is the only Democrat who was found capable of beating Walker in a head-to-head matchup in an August study by the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Poll.

Mordecai Lee, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee political science professor and former Democratic state lawmaker, told the State Journal that a strong name has yet to emerge on candidate lists.

Democrats must find a candidate with "low negatives" if they hope to evict Walker, Lee told the State Journal.

"The Democrats will need a candidate that Walker will have a tough time attacking," he said. "They need to keep the focus on the governor's unpopular moves, not on something negative about their own candidate."

One thing is for sure: If a recall takes place, millions of dollars from inside and outside the state will be in play. The summer recalls set records for spending, with millions flowing from outside the state into both Democratic and Republican campaigns.

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