In many ways, the race for Dane County executive is very similar to last summer's race in the Democratic primary for the 77th Assembly seat. Both contests were spurred by longtime incumbents suddenly stepping down, and both required candidates to immediately mobilize. Similarly, the result is a condensed group of left-leaning candidates. However, unlike the 77th race, few people (including yours truly) pretend to know who has the advantage in this campaign.
There are a number of factors to consider. The first is name recognition. Who's got it?
1. Joe Parisi. Even spring voters barely pay attention to who's running for county clerk, but the years Parisi spent in that position must account for something. Perhaps more importantly, his Assembly races have required him to contact thousands of voters.
2. Joe Wineke. It's been a while since Wineke was State Senator, but he may be the only name that many voters from his old district recognize. Moreover, among spring voters, who are more likely to be informed and active Democratic Party members, Wineke's stint as DPW chair (back in the good old days of '06 and '08) will be significant.
The other candidates are not as well known throughout the county. This does not necessarily make them underdogs. As I will explain, each of them have advantages that could help them overcome the lack of name recognition in the next month.
3. Scott McDonell. Being chair of the County Board has definitely helped McDonell get some name recognition that he wouldn't have as a simple supervisor from the isthmus, however, his position is largely unknown to those who don't follow county politics regularly. Furthermore, not only does McDonell's district only represent 1/37 of the county's population, but he hasn't even had to work to get votes in his district in over a decade, meaning he has to work extra-hard to contact people who should be firmly in his column. Luckily, he has the support of more than half of the county board, all of whom he has enlisted to make phone calls on his behalf.
4. Eileen Bruskewitz. The lone self-identified conservative in the race, the county supervisor from Waunakee also suffers a lack of name recognition. However, with the help of conservative/Republican allies in high places, including a newly emboldened contingent in state government, Bruskewitz could find an enormous amount of money, as well as enthusiastic volunteers and supporters, at her disposal. Her friends in the business/landlord community will likely pitch in as well.
5. Zach Brandon. Brandon is probably the least well-known of the candidates. His former aldermanic district is tiny in the context of Dane County, and his position in the Commerce Department gained him little in terms of publicity. However, it did gain him the support of Jim Doyle, who may be able to funnel donors and activists to Brandon's cause.