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In Wisconsin, do too many Democrats want to be governor?



BEAVER DAM, Wis. (AP) — Southern Wisconsin cattle farmer Diane Mills-Frank just wants to know who her party’s candidate for governor will be.

She and other frustrated Democrats are having a hard time navigating the glut of candidates — 10 serious and a half-dozen not as much — who are looking to take on Republican Gov. Scott Walker in November.

“People are just popping up,” said Mills-Frank, whose 100-acre cattle and hay farm rests along the Beaver Dam Lake, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) northeast of the state capital, Madison. “They fill out the paperwork to run for governor and everyone’s like ‘Who’s that?’”

There’s no sign any of the main Democratic candidates will drop out before the Aug. 14 primary. They are gathering Friday for the Wisconsin Democratic Party convention in Oshkosh, where they hope to win over hundreds of party activists — many of them undecided.

Democrats are angling for money from donors wary to commit, attention from a public that hasn’t really tuned into the race yet, and endorsements from key groups and Democratic allies looking for the field to settle.

Meanwhile, Walker continues to dominate the airwaves and stockpile resources as he seeks a third term. He had $4.2 million cash on hand in January, which has helped pay for his current $1.4 million television ad buy — good for three positive spots with no counter from Democrats.

Until someone emerges with enough money and savvy to capture the imagination of Democratic primary voters, people like Mills-Frank and Denise Hutchison, of Green Bay, just have to be patient.

“It’s a big field. It’s a really big field,” said Hutchison, a 62-year-old Democrat who was active for years in advocating for the statewide teachers union. “I do wish the field were narrowing itself.”

Jim Congdon, 74, said he’s worried that a long, divisive primary will weaken Democrats’ ability to defeat Walker.

“I really hope those who don’t have a chance of winning drop out,” said Congdon, who lives in Horicon and worked 40 years for the state Department of Natural Resources before retiring in 2011, one year into Walker’s rule.

“I would have a lot of concerns if there’s 10 Democrats on the primary ballot and nobody gets a majority of the vote,” Congdon said.

None of the top-tier candidates have a clear path to the nomination. The wide-open Democratic primary and the belief that Republicans are vulnerable in the midterm elections contributed to the large number of candidates.

The highest profile candidates in the race are state Superintendent Tony Evers; Madison Mayor Paul Soglin; state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, of Alma; state Rep. Dana Wachs, of Eau Claire; former state Rep. Kelda Roys; state firefighter union leader Mahlon Mitchell; former state party director Matt Flynn; political activist Mike McCabe; Milwaukee businessman Andy Gronik; and corporate attorney Josh Pade.

None of them have called for any of the others to drop out.

The party does not endorse a candidate at the convention and the large field is unlike any that’s come together to take on Walker. By this time in both 2010 and 2014 there was a clear Democratic front-runner with only token opposition. In the 2012 recall, five Democrats were on the primary ballot.

Several Democratic voters predicted that Democrats will start to coalesce around a smaller field of candidates after the convention.

Hutchison said she’s confident that Democratic voters will support whoever wins the nomination in August, even if that person isn’t their favorite at the moment.

“People aren’t saying if so and so isn’t the nominee, I’m going to stay home. I’m not hearing that,” Hutchison said. “In fact, just the opposite. I’m hearing whoever is the nominee, I’m going to go out and work for them.”


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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