In an early sign that liberal activists will coalesce around Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke's candidacy, the organization Progressives United announced Tuesday it will support the Madison School Board member against Gov. Scott Walker.
The organization, founded in 2011 by former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, conducted a poll of members in Wisconsin to determine whether to get in early behind Burke. Of the more than 3,000 responses, more than 75 percent favored backing Burke now.
The poll was conducted amid criticism from several liberal activists and bloggers around the state that little is known about Burke other than that she is a multimillionaire, former executive at Trek Bicycle, a nonunion company, who had supported a controversial charter school in Madison. She also was commerce secretary for two-and-a-half years under Gov. Jim Doyle, which Republicans are harping on as a way to link Burke to the high unemployment and job losses at the end of Doyle's term.
Some, including former Madison mayor Dave Cieslewicz, have argued a primary would benefit the nominee. But so far only Burke has entered the race with heavy backing from party officials. Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, a favorite of many of the activists critical of Burke, has said she is considering a run, but won't make a decision until early next year.
In a letter, Progressives United executive director Cole Leystra asked for donations so that Burke can start building a grassroots organization early to counter the influence of Republican corporate sponsors who "want to convince other Republican governors that it's politically safe to slash collective bargaining, reduce school budgets, and restrict the fundamental rights of women."
"She will work tirelessly to restore the progressive traditions of Wisconsin, create good paying jobs for Wisconsinites, and end the nasty politics of division that have become Scott Walker's trademark," Leystra wrote. "There's no time to wait."
The announcement notes the organization has raised more than $1.4 million for candidates in Wisconsin and across the country, including nearly $500,000 for Wisconsin recall candidates.