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Parisi latest Democrat to bow out of governor's race

Wisconsin State Capitol (WLUK)

MADISON (AP) -- Dane County Executive Joe Parisi became the latest Democrat to decide against challenging Republican Gov. Scott Walker, saying Tuesday that he can get more done in his current job rather than taking on an "extremely dysfunctional" state government.

Parisi's exit from the field of possible candidates is another blow for a Democratic Party still reeling from losses in the November election and searching for a top-tier candidate to take on Walker as he's expected to run for a third term next year.

Walker's experience and ability to raise tens of millions of dollars for the race was a key factor that led former Democratic state Sen. Tim Cullen to bow out last month. Businessman Mark Bakken, a political newcomer, also said he was not getting in the race and an attempt by fans to recruit former Green Bay Packers player Mark Tauscher to run also feel flat. U.S. Rep. Ron Kind and Democratic state Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling have also said they're not running.

Still, more than half a dozen other lesser-known Democrats both in office or newcomers are mulling jumping in. And Parisi, a 56-year-old former state Assembly member who began his second full term as county executive on Tuesday, was optimistic that Democrats will find someone who can defeat Walker.

"Stronger candidates have been taken down," Parisi said.

Wisconsin Republican Party spokesman Alec Zimmerman said Parisi's decision shows that the state's Democrats "are in total disarray" and Joe Fadness, Walker's campaign spokesman, said "even a tax-and-spend Madison liberal knows" Walker's agenda is working.

Republicans increased their majorities in the state Legislature in the November election that also saw Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson win a second term. Donald Trump also became the first Republican presidential candidate to carry Wisconsin since 1984.

Next year, Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin will be on the ballot along with Walker.

Democrats need to focus on the message that they're the party of the working class and cultivate candidates who can follow through, Parisi said. Some potential challengers are intimidated by Walker's money, Parisi said, but "if you have the right candidate, the money would follow."

But Parisi said he felt he could have more of an impact as county executive because "county government is one of the last functioning units of government."

"I want to be where I can make a difference and get things done," said Parisi, who has been county executive since 2011 after serving six years in the state Assembly.

Political newcomer and recent Stanford University graduate Bob Harlow is the only announced Democratic candidate. Others considering a run include state Reps. Dana Wachs and Gordon Hintz, state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ, former Democratic Party Chairman Matt Flynn and businessman Andy Gronik.

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