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With no front-runner, sprawling Democratic gubernatorial field taking shape (copy)

Several Democratic gubernatorial candidates participate in a "speed-dating" forum sponsored by liberal groups in Milwaukee in December.

The headline on the Associated Press article on the race for governor of Wisconsin, which appeared in newspapers across the state and beyond last week, was telling: “Democrats seek younger voters with mostly gray candidates.”

The article noted that, while Democrats are looking to energize young voters, “The average age of the nine top tier contenders is 58 and two are in their 70s.”

The next Democratic nominee for governor of Wisconsin should be the candidate who best expresses what the author Michael Harrington used to describe as “the left wing of the possible” — a progressive who can win. It is entirely true that the candidate who best strikes this balance could be over 70 or under 40.

But it is also true that the Democratic Party needs an infusion of young blood among the ranks of its candidates.

That’s why it is good that former state Rep. Mandela Barnes, who has significant political experience at the age of 31, is seeking the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor. Barnes is focusing on addressing economic inequality, but his combination of youth and experience is clearly an asset.

That’s also why it is good that former state Rep. Kelda Roys, who has significant experience at the age of 38, is running for the Democratic nomination for governor.

Roys argues: “It's long past time to have more young candidates (30s and 40s is still young in Dem politics!) running for office in Wisconsin. As a 38-year-old, I know firsthand how student debt imperils the economic security of my generational peers. As a mother of young children, I believe every single worker deserves paid family leave — and safe, affordable childcare.”

“While you don't have to be young to attract young voters,” Roys adds, “we must understand the issues that Gen X and millennial voters face, and offer meaningful policy ideas to address them.”

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She’s right. And Democrats, no matter who they ultimately back for the top spots on their ticket this fall, should take the messages of their amply-qualified 30-something contenders seriously.

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. and @NicholsUprising. Nichols is the co-author, along with Dave Zweifel, of the new book "The Capital Times: A Proudly Radical Newspaper's Century Long Fight for Justice and Peace," published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. It's available on the Historical Society website, and at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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Associate Editor of the Cap Times