Tim Cullen ramping up likely run for governor

The election for governor is a year-and-a-half away, and Democrats don’t have an obvious challenger to Gov. Scott Walker.

But one possible challenger is doing what he can to change the perception.

Tim Cullen, former state senator, Tommy Thompson cabinet member, and insurance executive, has spent months working for support around the state and recently took steps necessary to begin fundraising for the long campaign ahead.

Cullen, D-Janesville, said changing his registration with the Ethics Commission and opening a bank account advance a formal announcement of his intention.

“If I wasn't serious about running, I wouldn't be doing this,” Cullen said. “You don't do this to announce you're not going to run.”

Cullen said he plans to make a formal announcement in the spring. In the meantime, he plans to begin raising money, attend Dem district conventions and continue meeting with others as he works toward officially getting into the race.

Cullen said he doesn’t have an immediate fundraising goal.

“Filing this is a significant step towards going ahead and rolling out a campaign,” he said.

Cullen’s moves come as Walker, expected to seek a third four-year term next year, inches up his poll numbers.

The latest Marquette Law School poll, released March 22, said 45 percent approved of the job Walker is doing, while 48 percent disapproved. In October, that split was 42-51.

That’s the best mark he's had since 49-47 with registered voters just weeks ahead of his 2014 re-election.

Also boding well for Walker, insiders say, is a measure that pollsters rely on: the right track-wrong track numbers. Forty-nine percent of registered voters in March said the state is on the right track, while 47 percent said it is not. That split was 45-51 in August.

Cullen, though, says the problem with Walker is the same one that has bugged the 73-year-old veteran politician since the start.

“What I’m hearing out there … is that Gov. Walker just has not been the leader of this state that people expected,” Cullen said. “He’s governed only from the far right.”

There are other Dems eyeing the race, but Cullen said “I don’t see anybody else getting in the race, yet,’’ being as serious as he is. Others who could be in the mix: state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout of Alma; state Rep. Dana Wachs of Eau Claire; Dane County Executive Joe Parisi; Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ; Milwaukee attorney Matt Flynn; and businessmen Mark Bakken, of Madison, and Andy Gronik, of the Milwaukee area.

Congressman Ron Kind, D- La Crosse, often mentioned as a statewide candidate, declared in March that he would pass on running for governor, saying instead he will give his work in Congress his “undivided attention.’’

Some analysts say that’s because he would have difficulty winning a primary, given the progressive tilt to the current Democratic Party.

Despite Cullen’s efforts, many pundits say the Democrats best hopes of beating Walker may simply lie in history: that the midterm election following a president’s first win tends to go against that president’s party.

With Republicans in control of Washington and Madison, Democrats are hoping for a big snapback in 2018, when U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, likely will be on the ballot along with Walker.


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