Inching closer to a bid for the state’s highest office, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said he is “preparing” to both seek re-election and the Democratic nomination for governor.
“I’m preparing for both,” Soglin told the Wisconsin State Journal editorial board Thursday afternoon. “A decision will probably be made sometime around Labor Day. If I run for governor, I’m going to win.”
The state will select a governor in November 2018, and the city a mayor in April 2019.
Soglin, the city’s longest-serving mayor, said he’s confident about a potential race against Republican Gov. Scott Walker based on a poll conducted in May that delivered an encouraging result.
“I’d be very confident if the election were held today,” he said.
Republicans remain unmoved by a potential Soglin candidacy.
“Paul Soglin is such an extreme Madison liberal that he not only gave the key to the city to Fidel Castro — he actually thinks Wisconsinites will side with him and a brutal communist dictator,” said Alec Zimmerman, spokesman for the Republican Party of Wisconsin. “While Governor Walker is standing up for hard-working Wisconsin families, Soglin is desperately out of touch and wanting to give our state back to the big government special interests.”
Soglin, 72, said he’s prepared to challenge the two-term governor in what would likely be an energetic, fast-paced, expensive match up.
“I know I’m ready,” he said. “The question is whether or not Scott Walker is ready to go one-on-one live on TV with me. We could do it tomorrow.”
The mayor said he wouldn’t base a race around revisiting Walker’s controversial Act 10, which stripped most public employee unions of collective bargaining rights, but instead would focus on pressing issues.
“The first thing that needs to be done in the state is we have to deal with the quality of public schools, transportation challenges and communication challenges,” he said, adding that the latter deals with high-speed internet access and technology.
“I think there’s a big demand that the state make greater investments in schools,” he said. “On transportation, “we have to raise the gas tax,” he said. “(Walker’s) own party recognizes that.”
Soglin said he also has major differences with Walker on health care. “What’s he going to do for one in five Wisconsinites on Medicaid?” he said. “What’s he going to do to help hospitals?”
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Asked about recent high-profile crime in Madison, Soglin said, “We’re still a very safe city,” but that he is concerned about about the recent number of reports of shots fired and believes the police department has a good start in addressing those issues.
Soglin, who said he was considering a run for governor during the state Democratic convention in early June, again said the surprising appeal of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, particularly in Wisconsin, is part of what changed his mind about a potential run for governor.
The mayor said he’d directly confront a wedge between Madison and the rest of the state by seeking to broaden the approach to economic development and growth that’s worked in the state’s capital city. “There’s a better way of doing it,” he said. “I believe public-sector investment will lead to private investment.”
He said he’d need to raise about $20 million for a campaign, and expects the governor would raise $30 million.
The mayor declined to reveal specific results of the poll he commissioned from Democratic consultant and pollster Paul Maslin. He said the survey of 500 people from May 15-19 included information about he and Walker, and that respondents were told that he was 72, from Dane County, characterized as a tax-and-spend liberal who once gave the keys to the city to Castro, and that the city of Madison is performing well and successful.
“Each step of the way, my numbers got better,” Soglin said.
The poll numbers, he said, are higher than the 33 percent support he started with in his failed bid for Congress in 1996 against incumbent Rep. Scott Klug, and that the dynamic against Walker would be different.
“Here, with Scott Walker, we’ve got someone who has very limited support among the most important segment of voters — moderates in both parties and independents.”
Soglin has served three stints as Madison mayor: 1973-79, 1989-97 and again since 2011. He was re-elected in 2015 and his current term ends in 2019.
Walker, 49, has not yet formally announced a campaign for a third term but is expected to do so after the state budget wraps up.
On Wednesday, Democratic state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, filed initial paperwork to mount a run for governor in 2018. It’s the third time she’s been in the running to challenge Walker since he was first elected in 2010.
If Vinehout announces a full-fledged campaign, she would join recent college graduate Bob Harlow as the only formally declared Democratic candidates. Other potential candidates include former Democratic Party of Wisconsin chairman Matt Flynn, Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ, state Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, businessman Andy Gronik and state Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire.