The state’s gubernatorial race is more than a year away and we already have two established candidates on both sides.

Wait, established? No, that’s not it. We have one candidate with a compelling fiscally conservative viewpoint and one who is going forward without a solid platform — instead choosing to waffle while her party figures out what it wants to do with itself.

The latter, of course, is Democrat Barbara Lawton, the state’s lieutenant governor. She’s the only declared Democrat in a campaign against several Republicans, including likely frontrunner Scott Walker, the Milwaukee County executive.

Lawton has kept unbelievably quiet, even for this early in the race. She declared her candidacy almost immediately after Gov. Jim Doyle said he was calling it quits. But since then, her campaign has not made anything clear about what Lawton’s focus could be.

As for Walker, he’s stayed political and has yet to go on the attack. His campaign website highlights his issues such as jobs and the economy, government spending, education, health care and “standing up for Wisconsin families.” Pretty simple stuff, but it shows he’s highlighting the issues independents care about, and not the anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage rhetoric of the Far Right.

One question has yet to be answered, and it could kill the Democrats in 2010: In what ways, if any, will Barbara Lawton differ from Jim Doyle?

The governor’s last few years have been lackluster at best, so it will be in Lawton’s best interest to distance herself from that baggage. Any day now, Walker and his Republican buddies are going to start going after Doyle’s record and using it to characterize Lawton as a tax-and-spend Democrat who will drive the shortfall over $6 billion.

The GOP will probably attack her experience, too, and maybe with some merit. Being executive of the state’s largest county is pretty comparable to being governor. Being lieutenant governor is kind of like being the Queen of England.

Hell, I could probably be lieutenant governor. All I’d have to do is pick out some pet issues, drive around the state promoting them and then schmooze with politicos at cocktail parties and $500-a-plate fundraisers.

So after a couple of radio attack ads, Walker can turn a capable leader into the Dems’ pin-up girl and a member of Madison’s tax-loving liberal elite — you know, the ones who don’t give a rat’s ass about Real America and have no clue how to run a state government.

As much as I love me a good right-wing conspiracy, this kind of smear campaign would sway some voters to the right, or at least keep them from the polls. Lawton must inspire the independents of this state to drive to the polls on a windy fall day and cast their vote for her.

That means talking about creating jobs and the economy in a pragmatic way — a concept that has escaped the Doyle administration. It does not mean actively promoting Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Awareness Day or kicking off the screening of some hobo art documentary at the Union. It also doesn’t mean attending Fighting Bob Fest to talk about progressive ways to create jobs (Yes, those are things she’s been doing lately. Special thanks to her press office).

And despite all of this, she’s already gathering supporters — Sen. Jim Holperin, D-Conover, Sen. Jim Sullivan, D-Wauwatosa, and Milwaukee County Democratic Party Chair Martha Love have all backed Lawton. They place blind trust in her without knowing the specifics of her platform, and that could spell doom for the Democrats.

Lawton has little to no chance of beating Walker or another GOP candidate in 2010 unless her campaign staff quits dragging its feet and starts making big, yet fiscally responsible plans for Wisconsin’s future.

This state does not want four more years of Doyle, and if that’s all Barbie can offer, a new Democratic candidate must step up.

Kevin Bargnes ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in journalism.