Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton's sudden withdrawal from the 2010 governor's race was shocking, but it may leave the Democrats better off than the well-organized Republicans.
It's unfortunate Gov. Jim Doyle didn't announce his intentions not to run in 2010 sooner, but the disadvantage of a later start for the Democrats may be offset by an easier primary if the Democrats' best and last leading contender announces. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett could handily win the gubernatorial election in 2010 if he takes that crucial campaign step of running.
The Republicans have two major contenders, the likely victor being Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, but former Congressman Mark Neumann is running an efficient campaign. Neumann is traveling extensively and raising money and support that could be adding to Walker's campaign right now. If the Democrats have only one primary candidate, they will receive the support of nearly all Democratic volunteers and donors in the state, along with established party support, which translate to even more money, advertising and volunteers.
Barrett has already taken too long to announce. It is easy to speculate that political pressure and backroom deals were involved for him to enter as Lawton dropped out, but assuming that's not the case, it is completely unclear why Barrett is taking so long to formally decide. He is no longer at risk of offending friends, such as Rep. Ron Kind, who announced he would not run for governor weeks ago.
Barrett is still known for his heroic response after being attacked by a violent father at the Wisconsin State Fair. Perhaps it is more tasteful for Barrett to wait for the visible bruises and gashes to heal up before thrusting himself into the state limelight, but he wouldn't be the first politician getting airtime off a heroic story. Besides, Wisconsin loves a badass. There's reason to believe Tommy Thompson's motorcycle riding helped his image as he pounded through four terms as a relatively popular governor.
With an urban-centric president in office, it can't hurt Wisconsin to have a likeminded governor from a city background. Just as beneficial, Obama and Barrett have a friendly relationship, forged with Barrett's support during the early stages of Obama's fledgling campaign. Barrett was even invited and acknowledged at President Obama's Wednesday visit to Madison. Wisconsin is a relatively small state and such friendships are always a good thing to have. Allowing Wisconsin a louder voice nationwide can only help our state in the long run.
Granted, Barrett's statewide appeal could be damaged by his completely urban background. The non-Milwaukee majority of the state holds several grudges against Milwaukee, though not as much hatred as held against Madison, with its latte-sipping, scarf-wearing elitists. Milwaukee, for all its troubles, receives an enormous amount of state and federal funding and attention. Smaller towns can't help but feel disadvantaged in the rat race for government money.
Milwaukee's negative, crime-ridden image could also hurt a Barrett campaign if he can't convince the state of his accomplishments. Barrett is working tirelessly to help his city, but he has one of the toughest mayoral jobs in the country. Milwaukee's murder and robbery rates are more than twice as high as the national average.
But Barrett has still been able to improve Milwaukee. The downtown area has seen significant development in recent years, though gentrification may have helped that as much as Mayor Barrett. Barrett is also poised to assume mayoral control of the ailing Milwaukee Public Schools, as New York and Chicago's notoriously powerful mayors Bloomberg and Daley have done. The move, made possible by Doyle, would be of serious political significance for Barrett. His image would be heavily tied to MPS.
To balance out his background and increase his statewide popularity, Barrett will have to run with a rural Lieutenant Governor candidate. State Sen. Jon Erpenbach may be a Madison liberal in his politics, but his persona could help balance out Barrett's city background. State Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan of Janesville has the perfect accent and Democratic popularity to help Barrett win the gubernatorial mansion. A lower profile but more rural candidate would be even more effective in the number two spot, convincing Wisconsin voters that a Barrett administration would work for all parts of the state.
Even a Madisonian like Doyle can win statewide election after election, first as attorney general then as governor. A candidate like Barrett, who has more spark than Doyle, could certainly do the same. But first, if he finally decides to run, Barrett has to show his fire and enthusiasm. Barrett could bring a fresh face to state government and the practical realism he has earned since running Milwaukee. He just needs to grab the mantle and show people a Democrat really does want to be governor.
Jamie Stark is a sophomore intending to major in journalism and political science. Please send all feedback to email@example.com.