WASHINGTON -- Wisconsin Democrats came together to turn in more than 1 million signatures in the effort to trigger a gubernatorial recall election against Gov. Scott Walker (R), but they remain a long way away from actually kicking him out of office. One of the toughest parts will be coalescing around a candidate, and so far, there's no consensus on who that person should be.
Former senator Russ Feingold ruled out a run in August, dashing the hopes of many Wisconsin progressives who believed he would be their best chance to defeat Walker. Former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk is the only Democrat who has so far committed to running if there is a recall, although some worry she may not be a viable candidate. State Sen. Tim Cullen (D) has also been considering a run, but many Democrats are looking for a better-known candidate.
Another person being mentioned lately as a possible challenger is former Wisconsin congressman and House Appropriations chair David Obey, who told The Huffington Post that he's not closing the door on a run but would like others to step in.
Obey said his first choice to run against Walker would be retiring Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.). His second choice is Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D).
When asked whether he's personally been encouraging them to run, Obey replied, "You bet."
"I think at this point, both of them regard me as a nuisance for bringing it up so often," he said.
According to a recent survey by Public Policy Polling, Barrett would be the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, leading Falk 46 percent to 27 percent and Obey 42 percent to 30. Obey, however, would have a better chance than Falk, leading her 43 percent to 28 in a head to head contest.
"I've told people from the beginning, I really don't want to run," Obey said. "The only way I would in any way consider it for a fleeting moment would be with the understanding that I would do it to just fill out Walker's term. I would have no intention of running for reelection or having to raise the kind of money you'd need to run for reelection. I just hate that. But I continue to think that is a very very slim possibility. I just can't believe in the end that we would not nominate either Kohl or Barrett. This is serious stuff, and we had doggone well better pick somebody who has the broadest possible appeal."
Even if Democrats do coalesce around a strong candidate, recalling Walker will be a tough battle. Obey said said that the biggest obstacle will be the funding going to Walker from outside groups and out-of-state interests.
"The biggest obstacle is that every right-wing sugar daddy in America, every Ayn Rand fanatic with money in the country is going to be trying to put money into Walker's race in order to keep control of Wisconsin state government," Obey said. "It's very rare when you get someone as extremist and reactionary as Walker in a position of power in Wisconsin. They don't want to give that up. So they will pour the money in, aided and abetted by that outrageous Supreme Court decision on campaign finance."
Walker has raised more than $12 million in the past year for a possible recall battle, and he has $2.6 million on hand. According to the Associated Press, the Wisconsin Democratic Party has raised $1.5 million since July, while the Republican Party brought in about $1 million. United Wisconsin, the group overseeing the Walker recall, reported raising $300,000 from July until Dec. 10.
The governor has said that the only reason he has had to raise a significant amount of money out of state, and the reason that money is coming in from outside groups, is because of the efforts on the left.
"I wouldn't be raising a penny right now if it weren't for these recalls, which were largely driven by the national unions," Walker said. He added that "even money that's coming in from outside of Wisconsin in many cases is coming from people giving us $10, $15, $20, saying, 'We want to help you counter money coming from Washington and elsewhere.'"
A Walker recall is the next step in a campaign to oust state Republicans who pushed forward controversial budget legislation stripping Wisconsin state employees of their collective bargaining rights. In August, Democrats successfully recalled two Republican state senators from office, but they fell short of the three needed to take control of the chamber.
Republicans plan to challenge the signatures collected by Democrats, and the state Government Accountability Board must certify that of those signatures turned in, there are 540,208 valid ones. Democrats had hoped to collect a significantly higher amount in order to buffer against any disqualification of signatures. The verification process will take months, and the GAB plans to ask a court for more than the allotted 60 days to complete its review process. A recall election -- if it happens -- may not occur until at least June.
There have been only two successful gubernatorial recall elections in history, one against California Gov. Gray Davis (D) in 2003 and one against North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier (R) in 1921.
While Obey said collective bargaining and issues like Wisconsin's new voter ID law are important, he said what has most upset him about Walker's tenure is the change it has wrought in Washington politics.
"I served in the legislature in the pre-Cambrian era, when dinosaurs were still roaming the land," he joked. "In those days, when I was in the legislature, it was not a snake pit. The Republicans and Democrats got along with each other. We had personal friendships across the aisle. We would fight like hell between 9 and 5, and then have a drink together or go out to dinner together."
"But Madison has descended into almost snake pit conditions," Obey added. "While the governor isn't exclusively responsible for that, I think he bears heavy responsibility for the tone that has been set, and above all else, we have to end that kind of viciousness and get back to principled expression of differences."