Former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk
: Falk declared her candidacy only a day after Democratic activists announced that they turned in over one million petition signatures in the effort to recall Walker. She has to be considered a potential frontrunner for several reasons. One is her strong relationship with organized labor, which will wield major influence in the election.
AFSCME has already signaled its intention
to get behind a specific candidate and has already been meeting with potentials, including Falk, whom most observers expect will ultimately land the lion's share of influential labor endorsements.
But union support can cut both ways. Already, Walker is casting whoever emerges from the Democratic side as a hand-selected union puppet. While the natural advantages that come along with a union endorsement -- money, organization, GOTV help -- are invaluable, the optics of being linked closely with organized labor would play into the hands of Republicans and outside groups making the case on Walker's behalf. Falk has hired Meagan Mahaffey
, who headed up the signature gathering effort for United Wisconsin, the group that spearheaded the recall effort, to manage her campaign.
When it comes to executive experience, Falk, who served as Dane County executive longer than Walker served as Milwaukee County executive before he was elected, will be able to offer a compelling pitch. She's also run statewide before -- for governor in 2002 and attorney general in 2006 -- but fell short on both occasions.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett
: Barrett ran against Walker in 2010, losing by six points. He is considering a run and brings with him name ID from his statewide bids and service in Congress (in addition to 2010, he ran for governor in 2002) and the benefit of having run against Walker once before in a race that was decided by less than 125,000 votes.
But it's a double-edged sword; while he ran credible campaign during a year that was very tough for Democrats in Wisconsin (they lost a Senate seat and two House seats in addition to the governor's race), he's had his shot and lost twice before.
If Barrett runs, he's also likely to face significant pushback from labor.
"It is clear that Barrett is an unacceptable candidate. From our perspective, Barrett has been doing the bidding of Walker," Marty Beil
, the executive director of the state's largest public employees union told
the Madison Capital Times
Barrett also has something else to consider: He faces a mayoral reelection campaign on April 3. He isn't expected to face major competition and a recall election might not take place until early in the summer, given the potential for delays that could hold up the process at several junctures. But it's still something to bear in mind.
State Sen. Tim Cullen
: Cullen said in December
that he plans to challenge Walker.
Cullen fled the state last year in an attempt to stall Walker's budget repair bill. While in exile in Illinois, he attempted to broker a compromise behind the scenes, negotiating directly with Walker's administration
He could attract voters looking to move past a divisive period in the state. But without statewide name recognition, Cullen would face an uphill climb in a primary or a general election. Cullen also might struggle to motivate the state's liberal activists in a way that a candidate with closer ties to labor, like Falk, could.
"It's hard to see how he would mobilize the base of Democrats and recall supporters who really want a fire breather right now rather than a conciliator," said Charles Franklin
, a visiting professor and polling director for Marquette University Law School.
Sen. Herb Kohl
: Kohl, who announced last year he would not seek reelection in 2012, hasn't given any indication that he is interested in running for governor, and it's a long shot that he will run -- but his name keeps coming up in media reports and conversations with Democratic operatives. That's because Kohl might represent Democrats' most attractive candidate in a race against Walker.
He brings two obvious advantages to the race: statewide name recognition and immense personal wealth that could combat Walker's overflowing campaign coffers.
Kohl could make a pitch to the state's voters based on civility and a return to normalcy. He has high favorability ratings in the state and is not closely tied to the hyper-partisan atmosphere that has consumed state government over the last year. If he pitches himself as the above-the-fray candidate, a Kohl candidacy would make it difficult for Walker to paint his opponent as a tool of organized labor.
"Herb Kohl is the one person who can step in and bring some sanity back to the process and really make a historic change for Wisconsin," said Wisconsin Democratic consultant Evan Zeppos
Kohl also might be the only Democrat whose decision to run could clear the field, allowing the party to avoid a divisive and costly primary. But even Kohl's candidacy could come with some drawbacks. He hasn't faced a tough reelection campaign since arriving in the Senate, leaving him unaccustomed to the type of rough and tumble match up that the recall election will probably bring.
: A slew of other potential Democrats have been mentioned as possibilities, including state Senate Minority Leader Peter Barca
, former Rep. Steve Kagen
, Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin President Mahlon Mitchell
and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout
State Sen. Jon Erpenbach
is frequently mentioned as a potential challenger, but he reportedly told AFSCME that he won't run. Former Rep. David Obey
also turned down an endorsement interview with the powerful union, making a bid seem unlikely.