Doyle spokesman Lee Sensenbrenner did not deny the report, saying Doyle would make an announcement about his future Monday at an event expected to be held in Madison.
The Politico story, which doesn’t identify a source, says people familiar with the governor’s decision say Doyle “recognized the difficulties he may have faced next year and didn’t want to go through another campaign after a long political career.”
A decision not to run would set up a wide-open Democratic gubernatorial primary and give Republicans a chance to make gains after last year’s defeats across the state.
“This should be one of (the) three or four (most competitive) races in the country,” said UW-Madison political science professor Charles Franklin. “It’s hard to say it’s the top one, but it certainly ought to be on the top of everybody’s list.”
The last year has seen the 63-year-old governor’s job approval ratings plummet to 31 percent. Wisconsin has lost 123,000 jobs over the past year.
Doyle and Democratic lawmakers struggled to close a $7 billion budget shortfall this year and raised taxes on smokers and the wealthy, sliced funding for local schools and furloughed state workers. Earlier this month, Doyle's chief legal counsel resigned after revelations that she was not licensed to practice law in the state.
But Doyle continued to aggressively raise money for his campaign, building up a campaign war chest of more than $2 million. Counting his three terms as state attorney general in the 1990s, Doyle has won five statewide elections, which would have made him a still-formidable opponent for the Republicans seeking to become governor – Milwaukee County executive Scott Walker and former congressman Mark Neumann.
Budget committee chairman Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, said he was surprised by the news, since he met with Doyle for more than an hour Wednesday without the issue coming up. But Pocan also noted he’d been unable to get an answer Saturday from Doyle aides to his questions of whether the governor would run again.
“The fact that there’s such silence is sort of a confirmation,” Pocan said.
Doyle was an early endorser of President Barack Obama, and rumors circulated since last year that he might step down to take an appointment in the president’s administration. Doyle has said he is not seeking such a position.
During his time as governor, Doyle has repeatedly pointed to Wisconsin's status as the No. 2 state in the nation in terms of the percentage of its citizens covered by health insurance. He also has said he managed to weather two difficult recessions without raising general sales or income taxes.
Pocan said Doyle on Wednesday praised the state budget he signed earlier this summer for protecting the state’s most important priorities in a time of financial crisis.
But to accomplish his goals, Doyle turned to controversial measures such as transferring nearly $1.3 billion from the state’s road fund, actions that contributed to the state’s current budget crisis.
In a statement, Walker criticized Doyle’s handling of state finances and said citizens would be well-served by him stepping down.
“Wisconsinites want government to live within its means and to set spending priorities that reflect their priorities,” Walker said.
Mark Neumann’s campaign did not return a phone call.
As a son of two prominent Democrats in the state, Doyle enjoyed a charmed political career.
His father, James E. Doyle Sr., served as state Democratic Party chairman, ran unsuccessfully in the 1954 Democratic primary for governor and later became a federal judge in Madison. His mother, Ruth Bachhuber Doyle, served in the Assembly as one of its first women and later on the Madison School Board as president. Guests such as Adlai Stevenson and Eleanor Roosevelt talked politics in the Doyle home and Doyle himself was inspired by an early meeting with John F. Kennedy.
A Harvard law school graduate, Doyle preferred public service to lucrative work in the private sector, serving in the Peace Corps as a young man with his wife, Jessica.
Doyle defeated a fellow Democrat and served as Dane County district attorney from 1977 to 1983. Starting in 1990, he won three terms as state attorney general, catapulting himself from that office into the governor’s mansion.
The last Democrat to win two terms as governor before Doyle was Patrick Lucey, who served from 1971 to 1977.
Without Doyle in the race, other Democratic candidates would face the challenge of having to quickly raise millions of dollars and mount a statewide campaign.
Pocan, an influential political strategist, acknowledged those difficulties. But he also noted that possible candidates such as Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton, Milwaukee Mayor and former congressman Tom Barrett or even Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk would have the advantage of not being as closely associated with the poor economy and the difficult state budget spearheaded by Doyle.
“I don’t see a natural disadvantage for Democrats,” Pocan said. “It could be a natural advantage because you don’t have the current situation tying the potential candidates down.”
Republican Party of Wisconsin Chairman Reince Priebus disagreed.
“Whether or not Governor Doyle runs again, Republicans will be well-positioned to take back the governor’s office next year and get to work making Wisconsin great again,” he said in a statement.
Mordecai Lee, a UW-Milwaukee professor of governmental affairs, said while it’s possible Doyle could be after a job in the Obama administration, he doesn't think that's likely.
Instead, Lee, a former Democratic state senator, believes Doyle may not be running for re-election because the thought of going through what are likely to be two more brutal budgets doesn’t appeal to him.
“I think it’s the lousiest job in America today to be a governor,” Lee said. “State governments get harder hit by the economic times.”