As another election season comes and goes, Wisconsin residents are left to wonder if next year’s gubernatorial race will reach the level of high drama and national intrigue that marked some of the national races that came to a close yesterday. Not to be overly pessimistic, but I’m pretty doubtful the candidates that will emerge out of the primaries next spring will be all that interesting, much less inspiring. Aside from the premature flourish of excitement generated by Barbara Lawton’s unexpected withdrawal and Tommy Thompson’s recent tease, it is practically a forgone conclusion that both candidates for governor next year will be anointed by major fundraisers and corporate interests whose discretion will rest solely upon how well the candidates toe the establishment line.

Without the nearly mythical fundraising capability endowed by the power elite, no up-start candidate with novel ideas and a penchant for needed change will stand a chance. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign estimates that each candidate will have to raise between $15 and $20 million for next year’s race – certainly an impossible task for all but the most well connected. Scott Walker himself started his campaign very early this time around in order to stave off the pecuniary pitfall that did him in during his 2006 effort against Doyle.

Nonetheless, I guess it’s my job to make this stuff seem like it’s worth paying attention to, even if there is little hope of anything cool happening. And until we get a system of publicly funded elections I guess we’ll have to make due with what we have.

Not that I am trying to make the case there is zero difference between the state Democrats and Republicans – there is enough to distinguish the two from each other – but until we have a genuinely popular democracy that could support the candidacy of a genuine progressive, there won’t be much to get excited about.

John Nichols recently day dreamed such a scenario in which laudably pugnacious and progressive Wisconsin AFL-CIO President David Newby jumped into the race. Barring a major lotto win, Newby would be hard pressed to amass the $20 million needed to be a contender. So we will have to make due with what we have, seeing as that the window on a surprise entrance, at least on the Democratic side of things, is closing fast.

After the unceremoniously dispatching of Barbara Lawton – whose progressive politics and assertive attitude seem to have spooked the timid centrists surrounding Doyle – it looks like the state Democratic big-wigs are putting the pressure on aspiring pugilist and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to enter the race. Although he might have better luck defending the governor’s mansion than that granny at the State Fair this summer, it’s not altogether clear whether or not he really wants to end his stewardship of the state’s largest city. One can hardly blame him considering the energy and organization of the Republican contenders.

Scott Walker might not have a college degree but that hasn’t stopped the Milwaukee County Executive from amassing a substantial campaign war chest and a pretty tight operation around the state. Still, ignorance of the realities of global warming and an apparent effort to shorten Wisconsin winters won’t halt the “brain drain” from the state. Job growth, and Republican reluctance to use stimulus money to spur that job growth isn’t going to help. Using the money, instead, to freeze the sales tax just isn’t going to help; Walker will need brighter ideas than that one to win. The County Executive also counts himself among the incoherent jokesters opposing health care reform, opting instead to slavishly defend a health care establishment that shamelessly bankrupts thousands of Wisconsinites each year. In the end his whole candidacy might be for not if former Governor Tommy Thompson jumps into the race.

Without a doubt the Walker and Neumann campaigns must be fuming over news that Thompson might throw his well-known and hefty self into the ring. After months of plans and preparation both candidates might be brushed aside in one fell swoop as recent polls show Thompson easily twice as popular as either of the current Republicans running. In any case, given the unemployment crisis, a Republican victory coupled with voodoo tax cut remedies won’t bode well for those looking for work in Wisco.

Still, incumbent governors have it real bad nowadays. On account of the economic downturn hardly a governor in the country is very well liked as all have had to make drastic cuts to services, institute furlough days and slough off state employees. Given the relative unpopularity of Governor Doyle – polls earlier this year recorded his approval rating in the mid-30s – it’s not surprising there aren’t many Democrats racing to face-off against an eager Republican contender. I can only hope that the big donors and party honchos anoint someone with some measure of vigor and vision. They might wake up some morning soon wishing they hadn’t coaxed Lawton to throw in the towel so soon. In the mean time I think I might buy some scratch-offs for Newby.

Sam Stevenson (sbstevenson@wisc.edu) is a graduate student in public health.