Feingold won't run for Senate or Governor in 2012

Democrats in Wisconsin hoped to get Russ Feingold to challenge Governor Scott Walker as a means of vengeance for the public-employee union reforms enacted this year, or at least have him run for Herb Kohl’s open seat in the Senate as a means to assure they could hold it.  In a letter sent out to supporters this morning, Feingold disappointed them on both counts, saying that he’s enjoying life outside of electoral office:

The former three-term senator would have been a top candidate to replace retiring Sen. Herb Kohl, or to take on Gov. Scott Walker in a potential recall election. But Feingold will tell his fans he’s more interested in his teaching job at Marquette Law School.

“After twenty-eight continuous years as an elected official … I have found the past eight months to be an opportunity to look at things from a different perspective,” Feingold said in the email, first reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Craig Gilbert. Feingold said he is “thoroughly enjoying the life of a private citizen.”

In order to mount a realistic run for Kohl’s seat in 2012, Feingold would have to start fundraising very soon, if not immediately.  Democrats already have a candidate for that race in Rep. Tammy Baldwin, but it’s anyone’s guess as to whether Wisconsin will elect hard-core progressives from Madison to statewide office any longer. It doesn’t appear they will, not from the voting patterns of the recall races in the state Senate and the Prosser-Kloppenburg vote, and the unions are going to have a lot less money to blow in future elections after the PEU reform law’s passage.

The race for governor won’t take place until 2014, which means that Feingold has a couple of years in which to change his mind.  However, having been beaten in a statewide run by a political novice doesn’t exactly build confidence in Feingold as a man who can take on Walker, especially if four years of conservative leadership cuts spending and brings the public sector under control.  It’s safe to say, though, that this is good news for Walker and bad news for Wisconsin Democrats if Feingold stays retired.

Of course, this does leave Feingold available for other tasks than just teaching at Marquette.  Progressives are looking for someone to run against Obama in a primary, and Feingold might be the most prominent national progressive with enough reach to take seriously.  I think it’s highly unlikely that Feingold would attempt it, but at least one can’t say he’s unavailable.