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State Democrats promise a competitive governor's race

State Democratic chairman Mike Tate still expects a competitive governor's race, after the party's only announced candidate suddenly withdrew just over a year before the election.

Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton was campaigning full-speed on Saturday in La Crosse. But Monday morning, Lawton e-mailed supporters to say she was quitting for quote, "very personal reasons." And her campaign did not explain further.

State Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus blamed Gov. Doyle and the White House.

Doyle made lukewarm comments about Lawton last week, saying she'd put her credentials against whoever's in the race.

And Monday, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett did not deny reports that the Obama White House urged him to run - and that the president thought he represented the Democrats' best chance to keep the governor's office.

Barrett, who's still recovering after being attacked in August, says his final decision will be made at the "family dinner table."

And he said it would come soon, realizing the Democrats need a strong candidate right away.

Doyle announced in August he was stepping down, creating the first wide-open governor's contest in 28 years.

Lawton was trailing in the polls, but she racked up solid endorsements from some top legislators and former party chairman Matt Flynn.

Her withdrawal caught Democrats by surprise from Doyle on down. Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan did not rule out running themselves, but they downplayed it.

On the Republican side, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker immediately linked Barrett to Doyle, saying they had the same plan for "more spending, higher taxes, and over-reaching government."

The other major GOP hopeful, former Congressman Mark Neumann, said the Lawton announcement would not change his strategy.