MADISON, Wis. — Longtime Democratic Madison Mayor Paul Soglin joined the race for Wisconsin governor Wednesday, immediately tying Republican Gov. Scott Walker with President Donald Trump and attacking both of them as violating and undermining American principles of fairness and equality.
Soglin became the ninth top-tier Democrat in a crowded field that will square off in the August primary. The winner will take on Walker as he seeks a third term in November in what will be his first race since his failed presidential run.
Soglin, 72, hoped to tap into enthusiasm of the state’s most liberal voters in his base of Madison and in Milwaukee that helped propel Bernie Sanders to victory in the 2016 Democratic primary. Soglin promised to run a “supper club campaign,” hitting restaurants, diners and coffee shops across the state to introduce himself to voters.
Walker sent out a fundraising plea within minutes of Soglin’s announcement with the subject line “Not another Bernie.” And he took to Twitter, saying “The last thing we need is more Madison in our lives. @Paulsoglin is the latest extreme liberal who wants to take our state backward — just like he did in Madison, where businesses have left and murders have gone up. We want to go forward.”
The tweet fits with Walker’s long record of railing against Madison’s famously liberal politics, leading to the city’s unofficial motto of “72 square miles surrounded by reality.” But Walker’s attack on Madison came the same week his economic development agency launched a $1 million ad campaign targeting young workers in Chicago, touting Madison and other Wisconsin cities as a better place to live.
Walker’s campaign noted a pair of business departures under Soglin’s time as mayor, including closure of the Oscar Mayer plant after nearly 100 years of operation. But Madison, the home of state government and the University of Wisconsin flagship campus, is also an economic engine for the state, with a 2 percent unemployment rate in November that was far below the state average of 3.2 percent.
“We are the ones that are making him look good and he better say thank you,” Soglin said at a news conference across the street from the Capitol.
Last year, the 11 homicides in Madison was the highest on record. Since Walker took office, homicides statewide have increased from 138 in 2011 to 230 in 2016, which was the most recent year for which such data was available.
Walker sparred with Soglin on Twitter last week over Soglin’s record as mayor and his decision to give Cuban leader Fidel Castro the key to the city of Madison as a diplomatic gesture during one of three visits Soglin made to the communist nation in the 1970s.
Soglin, a Vietnam War protester on the UW-Madison campus as a student in the 1960s, was elected mayor in 1973. He’s served off and on in that position for 20 years since then and has been in that office since 2011.
In a statement announcing his candidacy, Soglin said neither Trump nor Walker believes in the principles of “equal justice under the law.”
“They do not cherish our heritage and, in fact, they violate and undermine it every day,” Soglin said.
Soglin faulted Walker for not standing up against the recently passed federal tax overhaul, calling it the “biggest tax fraud in our country’s history” and saying it will help the richest 1 percent and hurt everyone else.
He criticized Walker’s seven-year record as governor, saying he’s undermined public schools, allowed the state’s roads to deteriorate and hasn’t done enough to expand high speed internet to rural parts of the state.
Soglin also attacked Walker for enacting the state’s voter identification law and signing a $3 billion tax incentive package for Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn Technology Group, which is building a display screen manufacturing plant in southeastern Wisconsin.
Soglin said the state and local incentives for Foxconn, which combined could total $4 billion, would be better spent on public education, improving the state’s transportation system and investing in small businesses.
The Wisconsin Republican Party responded by launching its own anti-Soglin website, accusing the mayor of being a radical who has spent five decades advocating for socialist ideologies.
This story has been corrected to reflect that there were 11 homicides in Madison last year, not 10.