McCabe Leaning Toward Running As A Democrat For Governor

Longtime Head Of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Has Floated Running As Independent

Mike McCabe
Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Public Television

The longtime head of a government watchdog group said he’s leaning toward running for governor as a Democrat, not as an independent.

Mike McCabe ran the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign for 15 years. After leaving the organization, he started a group called Blue Jean Nation, which is billed as a nonpartisan organization for “the politically homeless.”

McCabe said earlier this month he would consider running for governor after nearly 200 people sent him a letter asking him to get into the race.

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While McCabe said he doesn’t consider himself a member of either party, he said he understands the challenges of running as an independent.

“I really understand that running as an independent means that you end up spending an awful lot of time trying to convince people that supporting you wouldn’t be a wasted vote and that you wouldn’t just be a spoiler who would split the change vote out there,” McCabe said.

McCabe said he wants to speak to supporters before finalizing his decision, but he said he’s leaning toward running in a primary.

“I understand what it means to take the path of an independent candidacy,” McCabe said. “And I also understand that it’s been tried many, many times, and it doesn’t work very well.”

McCabe lost a Democratic primary for the Wisconsin Assembly in 1998 to now-U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan. He also worked as a legislative staffer for three Republican state representatives in the early 1980s.

McCabe said he could formally announce a campaign for governor after Labor Day.

University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor Barry Burden said there typically needs to be a lot of public dissatisfaction with both of the major party candidates for an independent or a third-party candidate to succeed. Burden said he doesn’t think those conditions exist in Wisconsin.

“It’s true that Scott Walker’s approval ratings are lower than they were in his previous election efforts, but they’re not in the basement,” Burden said. “We don’t know who the Democrat will be, but I think both of those candidates would have to be viewed as unacceptable by the electorate for enough voters — 25, 30, 35 percent — to turn to an independent candidate and give them a chance at winning.”

Burden said the Republican base has remained unified, supporting President Donald Trump in last November’s election despite their reluctance to embrace him during most of 2016.

“So I wouldn’t expect very many to be lured away really any other candidate, whether conservative or moderate or anything else,” Burden said. “Someone like McCabe is likely to draw more Democratic voters away, and I think make it harder for Democrats to win the general election.”

McCabe is one of several candidates who’ve expressed an interest in challenging Walker, though most have yet to formally enter the race. Other possible candidates include state Sen. Kathleen Vinhout, D-Alma; Milwaukee businessman Andy Gronik; Milwaukee attorney Matt Flynn; state Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire; and Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ.