Mike McCabe: 'I am willing' to run for Wisconsin governor

MADISON -- Mike McCabe, the leader of a nonprofit organization that encourages citizens to challenge the political establishment, indicated Thursday that he'll likely run for governor of Wisconsin, but that he hasn't decided whether it would be as an independent or Democrat.

McCabe told The Associated Press in an email that in the wake of nearly 200 people signing a letter urging him to get into the race, "I am willing to do this."

The Democratic Party is searching for a top-tier candidate to take on Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who is widely expected to seek a third term. McCabe's only prior run for office was in 1998, when he lost the Democratic primary for a Madison state Assembly seat won by Mark Pocan, who is now in Congress.

McCabe made his name as the founding member of the political watchdog group the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which he led from 2000 to 2015. He actively lobbied the Legislature on campaign finance and ethics issues and was part of a team that crafted a 2006 overhaul of the state's laws that led to the creation of the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board. The Republican-controlled Legislature, with Walker's approval, did away with the board last year and returned to a partisan model for the boards overseeing elections and ethics in Wisconsin.

McCabe, 56, left two years ago to create a new nonpartisan group, Blue Jean Nation, which promotes itself as "working to promote the transformation of democratic institutions that are failing America."

McCabe, who also previously worked for three Republican lawmakers, said he considers himself nonpartisan and is struggling with whether to run as an independent.

"That's one of the many questions that will have to be answered by the time a campaign formally launches," McCabe said in an email. He said he worried about splitting the "change vote" and then being blamed for the outcome.

"Wisconsin Democrats are in such disarray, even a far-left candidate who doesn't identify with their party is considering a run," said Alec Zimmerman, spokesman for the Wisconsin Republican Party. "No matter who they decide to prop up, it's clear that all Wisconsin Democrats and the far left in this state have to offer is the same old policies of yesterday instead of fighting for hard-working Wisconsin families."

McCabe said he was working in the weeks and months ahead to "put all the pieces together and assemble a team, with the aim of launching a campaign very soon after Labor Day."

Several high-profile Democrats have said they won't run for governor next year, while nearly a dozen other less-known candidates are considering it. Political newcomer and recent Stanford graduate Bob Harlow is the only declared Democratic candidate.