Democrats who may challenge Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in a recall election next year include the Milwaukee mayor who lost to Walker in 2010 and a state senator who fled to Illinois to avoid voting on the collective bargaining bill that is spurring the recall effort.
None of the Democrats are saying they definitely will run. But with the announcement Monday that recall supporters plan to start the process Nov. 15, and signatures due to the state Jan. 17, the clock is ticking. The election likely would be in the spring.
With backing from public labor unions, the state Democratic Party and others, a coalition called United Wisconsin announced it would proceed with the effort to gather at least 700,000 signatures _ far more than the 540,208 needed to force the recall election.
The exact date of the election depends on a number of variables, including whether there would be a primary, but the earliest it could be is March 27. A primary would bump the general election to no sooner than April 24.
Walker is being targeted primary for his proposal taking away nearly all collective bargaining rights from most public workers. Walker's proposal enraged Democrats and union members, led to protests as large as 100,000 people that shut down schools across Wisconsin for days in February, and made the state the center of the national fight over union rights.
The bill passed the Legislature, even though all 14 Senate Democrats fled to Illinois for three weeks in a vain attempt to stop it. The state Supreme Court has upheld it while federal lawsuits are pending.
There has been talk of a Walker recall almost from the minute he made the proposal, but Wisconsin law bars submitting recall petitions against someone until they have been in office a full year. This summer, six Republican and three Democratic state senators were forced to stand in recall elections. Two of the Republicans lost, leaving the GOP with a slim one-vote majority in the Senate.
Spending on those Senate recalls was estimated at $44 million, which topped the previous record high of $37 million spent in the 2010 governor's race Walker won. Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate said Tuesday that more than $60,000 was raised in the first 17 hours after the recall timeline was announced.
One of the Democrats who went to Illinois, Sen. Jon Erpenbach of Waunakee, said he is taking a serious look at running against Walker. He's already passed on the chance to run for an open U.S. House seat covering the Madison area.
Erpenbach said he would "definitely take a hard look" at running against Walker, but he had no timeline for making a decision.
Another potential candidate is Kathleen Falk, the retired Dane County executive who lost the Democratic primary for governor in 2002, when she became the first major party female candidate for governor in state history. She also ran and lost for attorney general in 2006.
"Kathleen is open to being a candidate for governor when the recall effort against Walker is successful," said spokeswoman Melissa Mulliken.
A third potential candidate is Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who Walker defeated 52 percent to 46 percent in last year's election. Barrett also lost the 2002 Democratic primary for governor. He said Tuesday that he's focused on seeking re-election as mayor on April 3, but he wouldn't rule out running against Walker.
Other potential candidates include Madison biotech businessman Kevin Conroy, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind of La Crosse, former U.S. Rep. Dave Obey of Wausau and Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca of Kenosha.
Barca praised the recall effort in a statement, but did not comment on whether he would be a candidate. Kind's spokesman had no comment. Obey did not immediately return a message.
Stephan Thompson, the state GOP's executive director, said all the Democratic candidates were flawed. He noted both Falk and Barrett have multiple losses in statewide elections.
"I like our chances against any of these candidates," Thompson said.
Walker shuffled his top staff earlier this month in anticipation of the recall. His chief of staff Keith Gilkes, who had served as his 2010 campaign manager, left his office staff to coordinate a possible recall campaign.
There have only been two successful gubernatorial recall elections in U.S. history. The first was in 1921 in North Dakota and the other was when California Gov. Gray Davis was removed from office in 2003.