Scott Walker’s access to Big Money discourages Democrats from running

The Associated Press

Former Democratic state Sen. Tim Cullen said he will not run for governor in 2018 after all, leaving Democrats searching for someone to mount a serious challenge to Gov. Scott Walker.

The only Democratic candidate who has declared a run is 25-year-old Bob Harlow, who has never held political office and only recently moved back to Wisconsin. One by one, possible contenders are removing themselves from consideration.

Cullen, who filed paperwork to form a campaign committee before changing his mind, said while he feels strongly that someone needs to replace Walker, he never felt “deep inside” it had to be him.

“There’s a huge challenge in raising the campaign dollars even to be remotely competitive with the millions and millions of out-of-state dollars that will flood Wisconsin to keep Gov. Walker in power,” Cullen told reporters.

Candidates and outside electioneering by  dark money  groups spent a record $81.8 million on both parties during the 2014 gubernatorial campaign, according to a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis.

The 73-year-old Cullen represented Janesville from 2011 until 2015 and previously served in the Senate for 12 years. He was among the 14 Senate Democrats who fled to Illinois in 2011 in a failed attempt to block passage of Walker’s signature public union restrictions. He said he is in good health and that his age was not a factor in his decision.

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, while not ruling out a future run, has said it won’t be in 2018. And U.S. Rep. Ron Kind said earlier this month he will focus on his re-election to Congress.

Cullen said whoever runs would ideally have money of their own to contribute to the race. He noted that former Democratic challenger Mary Burke, who lost to Walker in 2014, raised $12 million and used $5 million of her own money. He said raising even $12 million would have been an “enormous task” for him and Walker still would have enough money to outspend him several times over.

Cullen said he’s met with Milwaukee businessman Andy Gronik, Sen. Kathleen Vinehout of Alma, Rep. Dana Wachs, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ, all of whom have been discussed as possible Democratic candidates. None of them have said if they plan to run, except Gronik, who decided against it.

Walker is raising money for a third term, but has said he won’t officially announce his decision until this summer.