MADISON, Wis. - Madison Mayor Paul Soglin confirmed to News 3 he is considering running for governor in 2018 after previously saying he had "no interest" in the Democratic bid.
Soglin, 72, had previously said publicly he would have a weak chance of winning a statewide election as a Madison liberal challenging Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who will be running for his third term.
But Soglin has changed his mind. In an interview with News 3 Saturday, Soglin said he's been encouraged by those outside of the Madison area to consider a run.
"What's changed over the last six months is that as I've been outside of Madison, a number of folks have come up to me and have said 'why don't you run for governor, you ought to run for governor,'" Soglin said.
Additionally, Soglin said witnessing the success of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., particularly in Wisconsin, has led him to believe that he could win in a statewide race. Sanders won Wisconsin's 2016 Democratic presidential primary as a self-described "democratic socialist" by 14 percent over Hillary Clinton.
Soglin said he believes that he could win swaths of voters outside of the Madison area by emulating Sanders.
"Senator Sanders is about as far to the left as you can get, but what he did, and I really want to study this, is he knew how to articulate these positions that went far beyond a political base," Soglin said.
The longtime mayor said while he knows he'll be pegged by opponents as a "Madison liberal," a label he has embraced, his accomplishments in the city will allow him to appeal to a wider electorate.
"There's no question I'm going to be more or less the ultimate liberal or progressive from Madison and Dane County, but unlike a lot of other people, I'm going have a track record over the 20 years I served as mayor," Soglin said.
Soglin said that Madison's economic growth could be a focal point in his potential run for governor. He said Walker takes credit for Wisconsin's job growth, despite much it occurring in Dane County.
"Almost two-thirds of all the jobs that have been created since Gov. Walker and I both took office in 2011 have been here in the Madison metropolitan area," Soglin said.
The longtime mayor also pointed to accomplishments on homelessness, affordable housing and transportation.
"In the northern and western parts of the state, they've got the same challenges that we've dealt with here," Soglin said.
Soglin said he has no timeline for deciding whether to run, though he said he will need to be 100 percent sure he can not only win the Democratic primary, but defeat Walker in the general election. He said he'd also have to ensure he'd be able to raise enough funds to mount a serious campaign.
"This is not something that I'm personally desperate to do," Soglin said. "Certainly it would be the last major political activity in my career...this is more whether or not I'm a credible candidate."
"I've entered the mayor's office here in Madison three times, all three times I've had to defeat incumbents."
Soglin added that he would not run for office if he believed he would lose.
"If I do not run for governor, we're back to talk about being mayor," Soglin said. "If I run for governor, I'm getting elected."
When asked about Walker's three previous statewide election victories, Soglin said his past electoral experience shows he has what it takes to defeat the incumbent governor.
"I've entered the mayor's office here in Madison three times, all three times I've had to defeat incumbents," Soglin said.
In a statement to News 3 Saturday, Alec Zimmerman, spokesperson for the Republican Party of Wisconsin, said Soglin would be too liberal for Wisconsin, citing his long, sometimes controversial, tenure as Madison's mayor.
“Paul Soglin is as radical a left-wing Madison liberal as you can get, even unbelievably giving the key to the City of Madison to brutal communist dictator Fidel Castro,” Zimmerman said. “Instead of standing up for Wisconsin taxpayers, Madison liberal Paul Soglin would cling to the failed polices of yesterday, take Wisconsin backward to the days when special interests controlled state government – and leave Wisconsin taxpayers footing the bill.”
Soglin said he plans to meet with people across the state over the next few months before he makes a decision on running.
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