Is Tom Barrett the Mitt Romney of the Wisconsin recall race?
Wisconsin Democrats currently have two candidates running in a gubernatorial race that has yet to be set, but I don’t know too many people who think that Kathleens Falk and Vinehout will be the only people running in the all-but-certain Democratic primary. There are other state legislators, including Sen. Jon Erpenbach and Rep. Peter Barca, who have vocal bands of supporters. There is U.S. Senator Herb Kohl, who probably isn’t running, but won’t rule it out just yet – a position also held by former Congressman Dave Obey. There is Russ Feingold, who insists he is not running, but who would also become the instant frontrunner if he happened to change his mind.
And then there is Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. While he is currently up for re-election in April, it is all but certain that he will easily win a third term. It doesn’t make sense to announce for governor with an election already in play. Barrett is doing everything but SAY that he is a candidate for governor and if Wisconsin wants a do-over on the November 2010 gubernatorial election, then Barrett would be the man. His most recent comment is that he is “seriously considering” running for governor.
There is no question that Barrett can win elections. He served a decade in the U.S. House of Representatives, following four terms in the Wisconsin Assembly. Statewide races have been a different matter. In 2002, he came up four points short in a three-way primary that ultimately sent Jim Doyle to the governor’s mansion for two terms. He lost 52-47 to Scott Walker in the 2010 general election, but there is ample reason to believe that Walker’s support has been eroded by more than a year of acrimony in Madison and possible fallout from the steady drip of the “Walkergate” scandal.
That leaves a couple of questions. The first is whether Barrett can win in a re-match with Walker and the second is whether he can get through a Democratic primary to have that shot. If you believe Walker is trouble, then you have to believe there might well be enough buyers’ remorse across the Badger State for Walker to lose to Barrett. He may be the strongest potential candidate for the Democrats and whatever he may personally lack in motivational power, Walker may now be able to provide.
That said, Barrett to the Democrats is looking a bit like Mitt Romney to the Republicans. He may not be quite as inevitable, but like Mitt, he is staid, stable, looks the part, has been a candidate of sorts for the office for a long time — and, most importantly, he has a significant base in his own party that appears to be strongly opposed to his nomination, despite some solid support among some of the old guard. State union head Marty Beil has made no bones about not supporting Barrett and the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teachers union, has already endorsed Kathleen Falk. On the other hand, Barrett bested Falk in a Democratic primary for governor in 2002 and he made his way to the head of the Democratic field in 2010.
Clearly, it will take more than union support and anti-Walker sentiment to win against Walker. On the other hand, the election likely wouldn’t be happening at all but for the untiring efforts of union foot soldiers and their supporters who went out and collected the signatures to force an election. And what makes it unique is that it is truly rooted in the concept of unseating Scott Walker; accomplished without any comparison to any particular opponent.
Barrett has a fundraiser scheduled for March 28 at the Italian Community Center in Milwaukee with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and tickets range from $400 to $2,500. That’s a lot of money for a mayor’s race that should essentially be in the bag by then. Barrett can use anything he raises toward a gubernatorial run by simply amending his campaign registration. With a fresh four-year term in front of him, he would enter the governor’s race with more job security going forward than Walker, recall or not. That is about as free a shot as anyone gets in this business and it could make for a very interesting speech the night of April 3 in Milwaukee.