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It did indeed speak volumes last week when Tim Cullen, the longtime centrist Democrat from Janesville, pulled out of the governor's race when only weeks before he had been optimistically looking forward to running.

As I wrote earlier this year, Cullen could have been a formidable candidate for the Democratic nomination. He had served several terms in the Legislature, including as the Dems' majority leader, he showed his working-across-the-aisle bona fides by taking a Cabinet post in Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson's administration, and he spent recent years seeking to convince members of both parties to work for nonpartisan redistricting.

But being a good person with reasonable ideas isn't enough any more in our politics.

Now, it's all about the money, and that's why even an experienced pol like Tim Cullen gets run out of town. Like he said when he announced he was giving up any idea of running, he's not about to spend three or four hours every day asking people he doesn't even know for money.

One of Gov. Scott Walker's toady mouthpieces implied that this was all nonsense. It is Walker's formidable record as governor — great economy, low unemployment, more people working — that makes people like Cullen realize they don't have a chance against this superman of a governor.

On the contrary, as each month goes by more and more Wisconsinites are beginning to realize what this so-called Walker recovery — one of the worst among the states — is really costing the state. Everyone's working, he claims — but for what? Peanuts?

No, the real reason candidates like even an experienced Cullen don't step up is because Walker is sitting there with tens of millions in the bank and, thanks to our broken campaign finance laws, he can hit up his right-wing benefactors for much more whenever he feels the need.

The media campaign, complete with its attack ads and spending that is provided by — laughably — "independents," makes it next to impossible to compete. 

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As Common Cause's Jay Heck commented upon hearing of Cullen's decision, "Wisconsin has truly devolved into a political hell hole when smart, decent, eminently qualified public servants like former state Sen. Tim Cullen of Janesville decide they can't run for governor of Wisconsin because they would not be able to raise nearly enough campaign cash to compete with Scott Walker's millions."

Sad, but true.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com and on Twitter @DaveZweifel

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