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It's Looking More Like a Woman Might Challenge Walker

There’s plenty of speculation about which Democratic candidates will run for governor in 2014. The names mentioned most often so far, are two women – state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout and former Trek executive Mary Burke.

According to the Wisconsin Blue Book, the major parties have never picked a woman to run in the general election for governor. Mordecai Lee says that record has not been intentional.

“It’s important we not over-interpret that,” Lee says.

Lee is professor of Governmental Affairs at UW-Milwaukee.

“There have been women candidates for governor who have not won their primaries but they were serious candidates, they were treated seriously, they had substantial fundraising. It might be a quirk of history to be able to say that no woman has ever advanced to the general election for governor,” Lee says.

Lee notes that Wisconsin voters have elected women to the state Supreme Court since the 1970s and to the positions of Lt. Governor and Attorney General.

“I think we’ve reached the stage in Wisconsin politics where the glass ceiling truly has been shattered on the issue of gender. The race for U.S. Senate which was won by then-congressman Tammy Baldwin was really the final definitive end to that,” Lee says.

Lee believes Baldwin’s victory last year will inspire more women to run for office. Political Scientist Charles Franklin says both Mary Burke and Kathleen Vinehout bring strengths. For instance, Vinehout has run a statewide campaign. She entered the Democratic primary last year, to recall Gov. Walker.

“With Vinehout, a core of support within the party that was present in the primary although she didn’t get many votes in the primary. With Burke, you have someone who has a business background, is wealthy and presumably able to self fund some of her campaign and someone with a somewhat different background than a career politician,” Franklin says.

Franklin says a female opponent would heighten the conversation about abortion rights and force the governor to take a stand on the issue. Michael Kraft agrees, a female candidate would likely hit certain issues hard. Kraft is a political science professor at UW-Green Bay.

“I think the Walker Administration and the Legislature have taken positions that make them very vulnerable on what we might call women’s issues and it’s not just the abortion issue. It extends to education and health care where I think we see women are more likely to be critical of the position Republicans have taken in the state,” Kraft says.

Kraft believes it’s not unusual for party leaders to travel around the state, shopping one particular candidate over another. He calls it, part of the sorting out process.

Democratic Party leaders have been arranging meetings for Mary Burke. At the same time, party legislators tapped Sen. Vinehout to deliver this week’s radio address.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.