MADISON, Wis. (AP) - While former Trek executive Mary Burke continues to explore a race for governor, another possible Democratic candidate plans to announce his intentions this week.
No Democrat has committed yet to running against Republican Gov. Scott Walker in 2014. Burke, who currently serves on the Madison school board but has never run statewide, is seen by many as the most viable candidate because she could tap her personal wealth to help fuel a run. Democratic state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, who ran in last year's recall election but came in a distant third in the primary, said she wouldn't decide on getting in the race until next year.
The third Democrat who has publicly said he is seriously considering getting in the race is Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris. He said late last week that he will make up his mind by Labor Day.
"I'm really wrestling with this decision," Harris said Thursday. "But I don't want to do anything that would reduce the Democratic Party's chance of winning this race."
Harris, like many Democrats, questions the merits of forcing a primary next year to determine who will take on Walker. While some argue that will help raise the profile of whoever is running, a good thing when candidates are unknown, others fear it will drain resources that could instead be used to target Walker.
Harris, who also would be making his first statewide run, said he discussed the risks of a primary with Burke.
"She made the point that a primary would delay the time that the eventual candidate would have to raise campaign contributions," he said. "And we're all aware that Gov. Scott Walker has a substantial amount of campaign capital."
Walker reported raising $3.5 million in the first six months of this year, had $2.2 million in the bank and continues to fundraise at a furious pace. On Friday, he attended a $2,500-per-person fundraiser in Tennessee for his re-election campaign.
A CPA and attorney, Harris worked in Michigan and Indiana before moving to Wisconsin and serving three terms on the Oshkosh City Council, including a year as mayor. He was elected Winnebago County executive in 2005 and has been re-elected twice since.
Harris said he had to decide by Labor Day to give himself enough time to start fundraising and building a base of contributors.
Burke, in an email, said she is still seriously considering running but does not have a time frame for making a decision.
With help from the Democratic Party, Burke has been traveling the state for weeks meeting with state lawmakers, former office holders, elected officials, labor leaders, policy experts and others. The Democratic Party has also been polling to gauge voter interest in a potential Burke candidacy.
Those whom Burke has met say she has not asked for their endorsement or committed to running.
Former Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager spoke with Burke for nearly an hour in early August.
"I thought the kinds of issues she was discussing and the kinds of questions she asked were very apropos of someone who is seriously considering a run for governor," Lautenschlager said, declining to give details about what they discussed. "She asked the right questions and discussed the right issues."
While Lautenschlager said she was impressed with Burke, she did not commit to her because she's waiting to see who else might get in the race.
Democratic pollster Paul Maslin met with Burke in late July but has not been hired by her.
"I think she's real serious," Maslin said. "I like her. She's got a real interesting profile that I think is probably exactly what we need against this guy."
Burke served as state Commerce Department secretary under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle from 2005 to 2007. A former Doyle aide, Tanya Bjork, has accompanied Burke on some of her meetings as she explores her candidacy. Bjork has deep roots in Democratic politics, including running President Barack Obama's Wisconsin campaign in 2008.
Burke, 54, is the daughter of Richard Burke, who founded Trek Bicycle in 1976 in Waterloo. She worked for the company in a variety of capacities, including as its director of European operations, helping to start and oversee companies in seven countries. She was elected to the Madison school board in 2012.
Republicans have tried to paint her as an out-of-touch liberal millionaire. They've also highlighted critical comments made by other Democrats about her potential candidacy, including Vinehout who said there is a fear some in the party may feel pressured to get behind Burke.
But Vinehout said most voters are focused on other issues.
"Who's going to run in 2014 just doesn't come up in most conversations I have, even among Democratic primary voters," she said.
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