Last month, Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton dropped out of Wisconsin’s gubernatorial race just hours after The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported the White House was pushing Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to run. Democrats who did not think Lawton was their best candidate were satisfied, but they had just taken a big risk by pushing their one candidate out of the race: What if Barrett chose not to run after all? Democrats would be left with no prominent politician to court, given that Rep. Ron Kind also ruled out a run.
This situation is reminiscent of the one that’s playing out in North Carolina, where national Democrats spent months snubbing Secretary of State Elaine Marshall while trying to convince Bob Etheridge and Cal Cunningham to jump in. Now that these two politicians have decided the race isn’t for them, Marshall looks like the front-runner; but imagine if she had followed Lawton’s lead and dropped out? Then the DSCC would be facing a real recruitment hole.
Thankfully for Democrats, Barrett did not leave them hanging: He announced yesterday that he would run for Governor, giving his party a top-tier candidate for what should be a tough seat to defend.
Barrett comes to the race with many assets (even beyond the glowing coverage he received when he tried to help a woman outside a state fair, only to find himself attacked so brutally that he ended up in the hospital for days). For one, he is well-known: He was a U.S. representative for 10 years and has been mayor of the state’s largest city since 2004. Second, he is experienced when it comes to high-stakes campaigns: Besides his House races and his first mayoral victory against an incumbent, he ran for Governor in 2002, losing a tight primary against Jim Doyle.
Perhaps most importantly, he is not directly connected to Jim Doyle’s unpopular administration. While incumbent governors everywhere are seeing their numbers collapse under the weight of the economic crisis (that’s especially the case in the Midwest, as we can see from with Culver and Strickland), Wisconsin Democrats have the chance to field a candidate who can run as an outsider next year, and they made the most of it. Barrett hasn’t even served in state government since 1992, when he left the state Senate to join Congress.
Wisconsin is too much of a swing state for either Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker or former Rep. Mark Neumann not to have a good shot at winning the general election, especially if the GOP enjoys strong political winds in the Midwest; but the state also signaled over and over again all decade that it ultimately preferred siding with Democrats, however narrowly. That gives Barrett a slight edge going forward.
Democrats can only hope to be be so successful in their Delaware maneuvers. Governor Ruth Ann Minner appointed a caretaker to Joe Biden’s Senate seat to keep it warm for Beau Biden, but the party has been increasingly anxious in recent months that the Attorney General might choose not to risk a loss to the one Republican who can possibly win a statewide race in the state.
Conventional wisdom remains that Biden will jump in, but he has been as non-committal as can be. (I mean by that he hasn’t been behaving like Andrew Cuomo, who denies any interest in a gubernatorial run while hiring top-notch campaign staff, acting in ways that strongly suggest he’s positioning himself for a competitive race, even trying to put his mark on the party’s entire state ticket, as The New York Times reported this morning.) The state party’s annual fundraiser, held last week, did not yield any more answers.
Perhaps the best solution to curing Biden of any cold feet he might be experiencing is to convince him he would be favored to win - and what better way to do that than to show him encouraging poll results?
Consider that Castle has held a lead in every single poll released up to today. Sure, they’ve been only four, but that’s four too many for a politician who is still young and has little reason not to play it safe. This is all the more significant considering one of those 4 polls - an April survey conducted by Susquehanna Polling and Research - had Castle up by 21% (55-34). That survey always looked like an outlier (Castle’s lead wasn’t larger than 8% in the other polls) but it must have weighed on Biden’s mind.
But today brought the very first poll with Biden in the lead - and its a Susquehanna Polling and Research poll! Biden leads 45% to 40% - a 27% turnaround since April. This means that Susquehanna is once again out-of-step with every other pollster who’s tested the race, but that matters little since this is exactly the type of story Democrats are hoping to see right now: The poll is already getting a lot of play, so it might very well influence Biden if the Attorney General hasn’t made up his mind yet.
(Susquehanna attributes this polling turnaround to Castle’s vote against health-care reform, which might have convinced moderates who’ve been loyal to the congressman that he might not be as centrist as they thought; I am somewhat skeptical of this, since I doubt Castle’s vote has be covered so extensively in the absence of an opponent to attack him over it as to significantly move numbers. And if we agree that Susquehanna’s April poll was an outlier, there isn’t any reason to spend much time explaining the trendline.)