10/22/2013 10:22 am ET Updated Oct 23, 2013

Russ Feingold Group Jumps Into Fight To Defeat Scott Walker


WASHINGTON -- Progressives United, the political action committee founded by former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), jumped into the Wisconsin gubernatorial race on Tuesday, endorsing Democrat Mary Burke despite apprehension about her candidacy from some liberals.

Progressives United polled its Wisconsin members last week about whether to back Burke, a member of the Madison school board. After hearing from more than 3,000 of its members, the group decided to endorse her.

"Wisconsin members of Progressives United want to support Mary Burke for governor now and begin the work to beat Scott Walker in 2014," wrote Progressives United Executive Director Cole Leystra in an email to members. "By a 75.2%-24.8% margin, thousands of progressives voted to start organizing right away, so Burke can build a grassroots organization early."

An endorsement was far from guaranteed, and backing from the group will provide Burke with not only grassroots support and fundraising dollars, but also progressive credibility. Burke is so far the only Democrat in the race to unseat Walker, a Republican, but others may jump in.

State labor leaders have so far remained largely silent on Burke's candidacy, and some progressives have been upset that the Democratic Party has seemed to discourage other candidates from running.

So far, Burke has refused to endorse the repeal of Act 10, Walker's collective bargaining law that sparked massive protests in Madison in 2011 and the failed recall election targeting the governor and Republican state legislators.

"I believe that collective bargaining is a right for public sector employees, but we should also be looking at how we move forward," she told reporters recently when asked about repeal.

Progressives United highlighted a few of the responses it received from members who wanted to back Burke, with supporters saying that backing a challenger to Walker early will be necessary to beat him.

"Under ordinary circumstances, I'd be encouraging Progressives United and other allies to hold off until after the primaries ... but today, the playing field is so far from level that this just may not be practical, given the high stakes involved," wrote Progressives United member John Q. "Mary Burke is an exceptionally well-qualified candidate. Supporting her now would give her a similar advantage to the one that Tammy Baldwin had in 2012 in being able to place her focus and resources early on with the general election."

CORRECTION: The original article misidentified former Sen. Russ Feingold as a Republican; he is a Democrat.



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