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Mahlon Mitchell, Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin president (copy)


Democratic candidate for governor Mahlon Mitchell said Monday he won't run negative ads against his primary opponents as he seeks to stand out among the eight candidates vying to challenge Republican Gov. Scott Walker in November. 

That practice would end should he be the candidate to emerge from the Aug. 14 primary, he said.

"Against Walker? Oh, hell yeah, we’ll go negative against Walker," Mitchell told reporters in the state Capitol. 

Mitchell, the head of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, visited the Capitol on Monday to announce his plans to launch a statewide tour on Friday. Mitchell said he plans to visit 20 cities in 10 days, unveiling policy platforms, holding roundtable discussions and hosting meet-and-greet events at local breweries and bars.

The tour, which Mitchell dubbed the "Badger State Beer Tour," will highlight what the candidate calls his "Together We Rise" package: a series of initiatives related to K-12 and higher education, student loan debt, criminal justice reform, health care and the economy. 

It's part of Mitchell's effort to introduce himself to voters, spread his message and boost his name recognition — a challenge for the entire Democratic field. 

A Marquette University Law School poll released on June 20 showed that state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers is the most well-known Democratic candidate, but 61 percent of voters don't know enough about him to have an opinion. For Mitchell, it was 86 percent. 

Evers led the field, with support from 25 percent of those surveyed who said they plan to vote in the Democratic primary. Mitchell earned support from 4 percent of those voters, but 34 percent were still undecided. 

Milwaukee attorney Matt Flynn has said his campaign will start running TV ads soon, but hasn't offered specifics on the size of the buy or the markets in which it will air. Asked about Flynn's plans, Mitchell said his campaign will be on the air "before not too long."

He also said he will have a "strong showing" in his next campaign finance report, due July 16. In his January report, Mitchell had raised $395,809 — about $300,000 of which came from committees, primarily union PACs. Asked whether that distribution would change in his next report, Mitchell stressed that union PAC contributions to campaigns come from voluntary member contributions.

"Union PACs get their money from their members, so they are in a sense individual donors," he said.

Going into the campaign, Mitchell said, every candidate knew Evers would have the most name recognition. The way to catch up is to reach voters through earned media and paid communications, Mitchell said, insisting that there would be no value in a negative campaign against him.

"What do you say negative about Tony Evers? He’s like my grandfather," Mitchell said. "What would I say? He said the word 'goddamn' at the convention?"

Mitchell was referring to Evers' speech at the Democratic Party of Wisconsin's state convention, during which the candidate said he is "goddamn sick and tired of seeing Scott Walker gut our public schools." Walker called Evers "pathetic" for using "the Lord's name in vain."

Mitchell joked that no one seemed to care when Evers swore, but reporters wrote about a joke he told on the campaign trail that included the phrase "taking a shit." 

He had a new joke for reporters on Monday, when asked about EMILY's List's decision to endorse former state Rep. Kelda Roys in the primary.

"I got endorsed by Emily's List as well. There’s this woman in Milwaukee named Emily and she has a list — a list of candidates she likes, and I'm on the list," Mitchell said.

He shrugged off Roys' win in a straw poll conducted by at the Democratic convention, asking "who cares?" about straw polls. 

All eight primary candidates are viable and "serious contenders," Mitchell said.

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.