There’s little doubt Governor Jim Doyle’s decision to not seek a third term was the top state political story of 2009. It blind-sided most Wisconsin political observers, including UW political scientist Charles Franklin. “It sure surprised me,” says Franklin of Doyle’s mid-August announcement. Franklin says a big reason why Doyle caught people off guard is because his reelection campaign was proceeding with fundraising, giving every indication that a third term effort was in the works.

And there’s more. “It was widely believed that Doyle wanted to be a three term, or even a four term governor,” says Franklin. Even though Doyle had not officially announced a third term effort Franklin says the governor’s claim that he’d always assumed he would leave after two terms seemed hard to believe. “Keeping that campaign running and fully up to speed, literally until the day he dropped out, I think that makes it very hard to believe they had a long term plan for him to drop out” says Franklin. “It’s not unusual for a governor to take his time getting out of the race. It is unusual for him to raise money at a normal reelection rate,” Franklin adds, noting that the now dormant Doyle campaign fund has a couple of million dollars in the bank. “He was sending all the signals that he was seeking reelection.”

Doyle’s decision seemed to leave Democrats in disarray, at least for the short term: Congressman Ron Kind took a pass on running for governor, Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton dropped out, and it wasn’t until November that Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett announced his candidacy.

Bob Hague (:65) AUDIO: Bob Hague reports (:65 MP3)

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