Via the AP
Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl said Friday he's not running for a fifth term in 2012....
Kohl is the fifth Democratic senator to announce his retirement ahead of the 2012 election. ...
"I've always believed it's better to leave a job a little too early than a little too late. And that's how I feel today," Kohl said during a Friday news conference in Milwaukee. "The interest and the energy I have for this job will find a new home at the conclusion of this term."
This is an unsurprising move, given Kohl's age, his prior refusal to hint one way or the other whether he'd run again, and his seeming lack of zest for governance and campaigning in general. (He was almost invisible during the entire imbroglio in Madison over workers' rights earlier this year.)
Kohl did bring one significant advantage to every race he ran, though: money, and a lot of it. He's heir to the Kohl's department store fortune and spent heavily from his own bank account every time. The most talked-about name to replace Kohl cuts a very different profile on the money front: former Sen. Russ Feingold, who lost last year to Republican newcomer Ron Johnson. Feingold has a well-known distaste for any outside campaign help, something which led him to barely survive a squeaker in 1998 and probably contributed to his ouster in 2010. If he seeks a comeback against a well-financed opponent, this could once again put him at a disadvantage.
Other possible Dem names include 3rd district Rep. Ron Kind, who is often talked about for higher office. Kind was a possible candidate last year for the open gubernatorial seat vacated by Democrat Jim Doyle, but chose to seek re-election. (He survived a stiff challenge from state Sen. Dan Kapanke, who in a twist of fate is the most vulnerable Republican facing a recall election this year.) The guy who actually did run for Democrats in the governor's race, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, is another option. He ran a creditable campaign against Scott Walker, but like Feingold, could not survive the red tide.
Less likely names could include Rep. Tammy Baldwin, as well as ex-Rep. Steve Kagen, who served two terms before also losing in 2010, Kagen's wealthy (though not Herb Kohl-level wealthy) and could probably self-finance to some extent. (UPDATE: Or maybe not "less likely": Nathan Gonzales's sources say that Baldwin is "likely" to run, in his phrasing.)
For Republicans, all eyes will be on Rep. Paul Ryan, but the guy has a good thing going with his top leadership post in the House GOP caucus. (Of course, he's also been doing us a lot of favors from that perch lately.) Some other possibilities: state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, state Senate President (and Scott Walker acolyte) Scott Fitzgerald, ex-Rep. Mark Green (who lost to Doyle for governor in 2006), and ex-Rep. Mark Neumann (who lost last year's gubernatorial primary to Walker and previously signalled his interest). Neumann, incidentally, is the guy whom Russ Feingold beat by just two points back in `98. One more (unlikely) name: freshman Rep. and former "Real World" star Sean Duffy. It could happen!
Both Feingold and Ryan have sounded pretty un-candidate-ish in the past, so we could see fields develop on both sides without their most prominent names. (I should note that a March poll from PPP showed Feingold leading Ryan by the same amount Herb Kohl was up, seven points.) But no matter who emerges, Wisconsin's swingy nature all but ensures this will be a top-tier race next year, and one to watch.
(Title and blockquote updated to reflect Kohl's actual announcement.)
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