In a new op-ed on the recall, I make the case for a crowded, wide-open Democratic primary to decide who will take on Scott Walker. I even suggest four new names to consider.
But assuming none of those folks actually runs, how does the rest of the known field shape up?
Here's my take on the most to least electable Democrats. A big caveat: I know and like almost all of these people. Ninety-percent of them would make a great governor. This isn't based on whom I like better as a person, but on what I'm hearing out there, and my gut political instincts about electability versus Walker.
Feel free to disagree below, as I know you will. Feel even more free to agree.
- Herb Kohl. I know he says he's not running, but he hasn't really said he's not running. Upside: Fundraising would take as long as it takes for Herb to find his checkbook. How does Walker attack Uncle Herb, who has made an art out of giving his money away? Downside: Failed to bring professional basketball to Milwaukee.
- Ron Kind. He also says he's not running, which is perplexing since the open rumor for years was that he wanted to be governor. Upside: There's some advantage to not being from Madison or Milwaukee (though not as much as people like to think), and his distance from the unions is actually a plus for independent-minded Wisconsin voters. Downside: Doesn't get the liberal base fired up.
- Tom Barrett. Taking a close look at a race, but has to get through his reelection for mayor first. Upside: Put up a decent showing against Walker in a landslide Republican year. Genuine nice guy who would contrast well with Walker's smug and now sleazy image. Downside: His laid back manner belies the fire in the belly he really has. Has to show his passion.
- Russ Feingold. He's made the most definitive statements about not wanting it. But if he did run, how can I rank him so low as a potential winner? Upside: The Democratic base will walk across cut glass to vote for him. Downside: The Republican base will walk across burning coals to vote against him. Independents don't like cut glass or burning coals. They want someone who gives them a nice clear sidewalk. We love him, but that ain't Russ.
- Dave Obey. Widely believed to be just a stalking horse for Barrett. Upside: He'll excite the base and take Walker to the woodshed every day. Downside: A polarizing figure at a time when the winning candidate will likely be the kind of person who will heal some wounds.
- Kathleen Falk. The only serious announced candidate. Upside: Nobody works harder and is better organized or more disciplined. She was a public executive in a big job. Downside: The early "union boss" backing will hurt her in a general. Moreover, the base is not excited about her third attempt at statewide office. Lingering lefty grumpiness for taking on Peg Lautenschlager. (That I do not get. Lautenschlager was the chief law enforcement officer in a state with the biggest drunk driving problem in the nation and she drove drunk. Kathleen was absolutely right to challenge her. It is beyond comprehension that Peg continues to have credibility with the left or any thinking person, for that matter.)
- Jon Erpenbach. Who doesn't love Jon? Upside: Charismatic, looks and sounds good on The Ed Show. Downside: Won't do the nitty-gritty work (See Falk.)
- Peter Barca. Upside: Hero of the crisis moment when Republicans (probably illegally) slammed through union-busting legislation. Has been articulate spokesman against Walker policies. Downside: Limited base coming out of Kenosha. Can he raise the money?
- Mahlon Mitchell. The charismatic Madison fire fighter and union leader became a fiery fixture at the 2011 Capitol rallies. Upside: He's the youngest, most dynamic person in the field. Downside: He's never run anything close to the complexity of state government. Good choice for the number two spot this time around with bigger rolls ahead.
- Doug La Follette. Upside: Name is La Follette, though not spelled the same. Downside: Once wrote a fundraising letter in which he said he was watching a snowfall, and reflected that each flake in itself didn't amount to much, but that billions of them could bring an entire city to a halt; concluded "we are those flakes." When it comes to Doug, people agree.
- Kathleen Vinehout. Just like in Spinal Tap we go to eleven. Apparently, a state senator or something from somewhere. Upside: wait, wait, I'm thinking. Downside: I suppose she'd have one if anybody had ever heard of her.
My bottom line here is that the one clear, winning candidate is Herb Kohl, while there are maybe five or six others who could pull it off under the right circumstances. And with Walker's troubles with the economy, Vetgate, and now Computergate, and with the John Doe investigation turning up new revelations every week, I'm starting to think that I'm being too hard on even good, old Doug La Follette.