MADISON, Wis. — Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris said Friday he won't run for governor but would reconsider his decision if the two other potential Democratic candidates opt out of the race.
Harris, former Trek executive Mary Burke and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout have been mulling challenging Republican Gov. Scott Walker in 2014. Burke hasn't announced whether she'll enter the race, and Vinehout has said she'll decide next year.
But many see Burke as the most viable candidate because she can use her personal wealth to fuel a campaign and match Walker's fundraising. The governor reported raising $3.5 million in the first half of this year and had $2.2 million in the bank.
Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate threw his support behind Burke during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, saying she would probably win a primary. He also hinted that party leaders don't want to see a primary that could sap the survivor's resources and reduce the time he or she would have to raise money as the party's lone nominee.
Harris said in an email to The Associated Press that he was "underfunded."
"Entry into the race as an underfunded candidate may not be helpful to bring the policy extremes of the current administration to an end," Harris wrote. "I leave the field of potential candidates for the Democratic Party nomination for Governor knowing that two very qualified potential candidates remain ... I reserve the right to enter this race at a future date if these potential candidates do not actually enter the race."
He said in a telephone interview that Tate has told him if one candidate had a clear field, donors would rally behind him or her, enabling the candidate to start raising more money earlier. But Harris said Tate never pressured him to stay out of the race.
"He's always made it clear he wasn't telling me what to do. He just made that point. And quite frankly, it's a valid point," Harris said. "It would not be true if it was implied there was pressure on me to get out."
Burke's spokesman called Harris an important leader in the Democratic Party and credited him for seriously weighing whether to enter the race. A message left at Vinehout's Capitol office wasn't immediately returned.
Wisconsin Republican Party Executive Director Joe Fadness issued a statement saying Harris' decision wasn't a surprise because Democrats "hand-picked" Burke long ago. He called her a "staunch advocate for the failed policies of the past."
Wisconsin Democratic Party spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff countered that Walker is failing to deliver on a campaign promise to create 250,000 jobs.