So the recall petitions are turned in today against Governor Scott Walker--but where is the Democrat that is running against him? As I recall, candidates were announced before any petitions were filed against the Republican State Senators last summer--and there are declared candidates running against the GOP Senators targeted this spring as well. But as of this morning, no prominent Democrat has stepped up to say they will challenge Governor Walker.
From a strategic standpoint, anyone getting in now is going to find themselves way behind in terms of financing and organization. Governor Walker has had the money to run statewide TV and radio ads for about three months already. While there will likely be a number of court challenges to the petitions and the process used to collect them pushing the election into late summer or early fall, the short nature of a recall election will make it almost impossible to raise the kind of cash necessary to challenge the warchest already built by the incumbent.
Despite the financial challenges, the real reason no one is rushing to get in the candidate's pool first is that being the recall challenger is going to be a no-win situation. I don't mean that person has no chance of winning the election--they just have no chance of making anyone happy if they do.
The recall challenger is hamstrung by some unfortunate (for them) realities. They won't be able to run on a platform of repealing Act 10--which did away with collective bargaining for public sector workers and required them to contribute toward their health insurance and retirement benefits (you know, the entire reason we've gone recall crazy in Wisconsin)--because that would automatically put red numbers into not only the state budget but the budget for every county, city and school district in the state (most of which were balanced on the savings seen by reduced personnel expenses). That's why the unions fought so hard and protested so vociferously last year--because they knew that once the gig was up--Joe and Jane Taxpayer wouldn't be jumping up and down demanding we go back to the "old way of doing things". It's also why it was so important for recall organizers to get as many signatures as possible before people got their property tax bills last month and saw the much smaller increase than they were used to the last decade or so. And when was the last time you heard a public outcry over that?
Any Democratic recall candidate would also be faced with the likelihood of at least one and probably both houses of the Legislature still being under Republican control. I tend to doubt GOP leaders will be in any mood to work with a recall election winner--meaning two years of absolute gridlock in Madison (which may not be all that bad, when you think about it). And then there is the fact that if you do knock out Walker, you really have to start campaigning again in just a year for the 2014 regular election.
It is far more advantageous for anyone who thinks they have a chance to win a race for Governor to sit out the recall effort and focus on 2014. If President Obama wins re-election this November, the economic malaise will continue for at least another two years--so you can run on a platform that Governor Walker "failed to turn things around in Wisconsin". Plus you have almost two years to put your organization in place, raise your money and canvass the state building name-recognition. And if you win--you get a full four years in office--instead of barely two.
So look for someone like former Congressman Dave Obey or soon-to-be-former Senator Herb Kohl to reluctantly step into the recall race sometime in the next two months. Their political careers are over--so they have nothing to lose if they do lose--or if they win.