Tough-on-Crime Democrat Could Seek Governorship

hen he confronted a would-be assailant when leaving State Fair Park with his family, surely it wasn’t on Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s mind that this tussle could be the best thing imaginable for his political career.

When a woman and child were in need, he acted, putting his family’s life and health at risk to help two strangers. Likely, it was a defining moment for Barrett as a person. After all, I think we all wonder how we would react in that same situation and hope we would step up to help.But it could very well be a defining moment for Barrett The Politician as well.

Even before Gov. Jim Doyle announced he would not run for a third term, there was a short list of Democratic candidates who could run in 2010. Tom Barrett was certainly on it. He had run a solid primary campaign for governor back in 2002 before losing a three-way battle with Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and the eventual winner Doyle. In that tight race and through years in Congress and leading Milwaukee, Barrett certainly made the case he has the credentials for the job.

With Doyle out of the race, we know it will be a crowded primary field. In that kind of competition, name recognition by the voters is key. You have only a few months (or sometimes weeks) to make an impression during the summer when most are not concerned about politics. Candidates spend gobs of money to simply introduce themselves to voters across Wisconsin. Barrett has easily eclipsed any rival without spending a dime to make himself known to the people in Eau Claire or Beloit. And better yet for the would-be candidate, he’s done it in a very positive way.

Tom Barrett—the “Tough on Crime” Democrat.

You can see the campaign literature and TV commercials already. Potential Democratic candidates like Congressman Ron Kind and Lt. Governor Barbara Lawton must be wondering how many millions it’ll cost them to make an impression like that.

Certainly, I would not imply that this was the Milwaukee mayor’s objective in the moment he set out to help someone being attacked, but no doubt it will impact voters. It’s not enough to guarantee an election win but it vaults him to the top as a contender.

That is, if he wants the job.

Colin Benedict is WISC-TV’s news director. Before that he was the station’s political reporter. He’s lived in the Madison area since 1995. E-mail him at