Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said Tuesday he won’t run for governor in 2018, removing one of the most high-profile Democratic elected officials from the shortening list of Gov. Scott Walker’s potential challengers.
In an interview Tuesday, Parisi said Walker is “both vulnerable and strong,” and could lose to “the right person with the right message.”
“The right message is key,” Parisi said. “I think it’s important that we get back to the core message of being the party for hard-working and middle class people, who get up to work every day and are struggling to make ends meet,” Parisi said. “Unfortunately the Republican Party has co-opted that message when the Democratic Party will always be the party of regular people.”
The right message includes supporting a higher minimum wage and increasing worker protections, he said.
Parisi declined to name other potential Democratic candidates who could be formidable against Walker, though he noted there are some whose names have not been floated yet.
He said the candidate will likely have to raise at least $10 million to win. He said fundraising wasn’t a reason for his decision not to run.
Rather, Parisi said he believes he can have a greater impact as county executive, a job he still loves. He was just re-elected to his second full term without an opponent. He was first elected in 2011 in a special election to replace Kathleen Falk, who ran for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2002 and 2012.
Parisi said Walker’s strengths are his “well-honed election machine” and ability to raise money. The latest Marquette Law School Poll found 45 percent of registered voters approve of Walker’s job performance, while 48 percent disapprove. That’s slightly better than it has been over the past two years since Walker mounted an unsuccessful presidential campaign.
Walker hasn’t declared he is running for a third term, though he has dropped several strong hints he will.
“Isn’t it fitting that on Tax Day yet another top-tier recruit for the big government special interests decided not to run against Governor Walker’s strong record of defending Wisconsin’s working families?” Walker spokesman Joe Fadness said in response to Parisi’s decision. “With the lowest unemployment rate since 2000, more people working than ever before, and a bright economic outlook for hard-working Wisconsin families, even a tax-and-spend Madison liberal knows these reforms are moving Wisconsin forward.”
Democrats who have been floated as possible candidates in 2018 include Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, Rep. Dana Wachs, Rep. Gordon Hintz, Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ, former Democratic Party chairman Matt Flynn and Milwaukee businessman Andy Gronik.
Parisi joins a growing list of potential Democratic candidates who have ruled out a run including U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, Rep. Cory Mason, former state Sen. Tim Cullen, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, Kenosha County Executive Jim Kreuser and Madison businessman Mark Bakken.
Republican Party of Wisconsin spokesman Alec Zimmerman said in a statement Parisi’s exit is the latest sign “Wisconsin Democrats are in total disarray.”
Democratic Party of Wisconsin executive director Martha Laning said in a statement the party is still speaking with potential candidates and “will have a top-tier candidate” to challenge Walker.