Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said Saturday that he’s considering seeking the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018, the winner of which likely will challenge Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
It marked a reversal for Soglin, who said in December he had “no interest” in challenging Walker, who is very likely to seek a third term as governor.
Soglin 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.
As a Madison liberal, Soglin told the Wisconsin State Journal Saturday, he used to believe it would be a struggle to sell himself to voters in a statewide election. But he noted Sanders, a self-described “democratic socialist” with a large base of support in Madison, easily won the state’s 2016 Democratic presidential primary. Soglin was a Sanders delegate to last year’s Democratic National Convention.
“His success is one part of it,” Soglin said.
Soglin said he long has been encouraged to run for governor. What changed in recent months, he said, was the amount of encouragement he got from areas outside Dane County.
Soglin said Madison’s economic growth could be a focal point of a run for governor. He said Walker “is running around the state claiming economic victory” while much of the state’s job growth is happening in Dane County — a liberal area with a political philosophy that Soglin said is completely opposite of Walker’s.
“The (low) unemployment rate (Walker) boasts about is driven by what’s going on in the Madison area,” Soglin said. “If it can work here, it raises an interesting question: Can’t it work statewide?”
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Soglin said he has no timeline for deciding whether to run.
“My decision won’t be driven by other candidates. It will be driven by what I learn and perceive people want,” Soglin said.
Bob Harlow, a recent college graduate from Barneveld, is the only formally declared Democratic candidate for governor.
Other potential candidates who have said they’re considering a run or have not ruled out the possibility include former Democratic Party of Wisconsin chairman Matt Flynn, Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ, state Rep. Gordon Hintz, businessman Andy Gronik, state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout and state Rep. Dana Wachs.
A longtime stalwart of Madison’s political scene, Soglin, 72, got his start in activism in the civil rights movement and antiwar protests of the 1960s. He first was elected to office as a city councilman in 1968.
Since then Soglin has served three stints as Madison mayor: from 1973–79, 1989-97 and again from 2011 to the present. He was re-elected in 2015 and his current term ends in 2019.
Wisconsin Republicans wasted little time going after Soglin Saturday. A statement from the Republican Party of Wisconsin said Soglin “would cling to the failed policies of yesterday.”
“Paul Soglin is as radical a left-wing Madison liberal as you can get,” party spokesman Alec Zimmerman said.