- Associated Press - Friday, March 10, 2017

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Democratic U.S. Rep. Ron Kind said Friday he will not run for Wisconsin governor in 2018, ending months of speculation and leaving the field wide open for a challenger to Republican incumbent Scott Walker.

Instead of taking on Walker, who is widely expected to seek a third term, Kind said in a statement to The Associated Press that he will focus on his work in Congress and run for re-election. The National Republican Congressional Committee announced in January that it would be targeting Kind’s seat next year.

Kind first won election to Congress representing western Wisconsin in 1996. He was unopposed last year, but President Donald Trump carried the congressional district by more than 4 percentage points on his way to winning Wisconsin.

Kind’s decision was not surprising, given his repeated flirtations with running for Senate or governor the past decade that came to nothing, but it does leave Democrats without their most well-known potential candidate.

Other Democrats considering a run include former state Sen. Tim Cullen, state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, of Alma, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, state Rep. Dana Wachs, of Eau Claire, and Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ.

Cullen is proceeding with his plans to run and expects to make an official announcement by the end of April. He said Friday that Kind would have been a “very strong” candidate and his decision “probably helps me” to win a Democratic primary.

Wachs said he would have never run against Kind, but was still mulling whether to get into the race himself.

Vinehout issued a statement saying she continued “to engage with people all over the state” about a potential run. Parisi and Happ did not immediately reply to messages.

Democratic pollster Paul Maslin said the key question for 2018 will not be who the Democratic candidate is, but how Walker is going to be viewed in light of voters’ feelings about Trump.

“Everything is going to be seen through a Trump prism,” Maslin said. “All the standard rules don’t apply.”

It may not be a bad thing for Democrats not to have a well-known, established candidate to take on Walker, Maslin said. He noted the success of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was virtually unknown before his run for president.

Kind said he had been encouraged to run for governor, but “after much consideration and consultation with my family, I’ve decided that I will not run.”

“Given what is happening in Congress now, I believe representing Wisconsin’s Third Congressional District requires my undivided attention to ensure policies are not enacted that will harm Wisconsinites back home,” Kind said.

Kind said he was focused on creating good-paying jobs that boost the local economy, making higher education more affordable, protecting Social Security and Medicare and helping Wisconsin’s farmers.

“The push for endless political campaigning does a disservice to everyone in Wisconsin,” Kind said.

Walker is expected to run for a third term but has said he won’t announce his decision until this summer after the state budget is passed.

“With the lowest unemployment rate since 2001, more people working than ever before, and a bright economic outlook for Wisconsin families, it’s not surprising that Democrats are thinking twice about running against Governor Walker’s strong record of results and reform,” said his campaign spokesman Joe Fadness.

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Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sbauerAP and find more of his work at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/scott-bauer

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