With Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett expected to cruise to re-election next week, a high-priced fundraiser Wednesday with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel suggests Barrett might have his eye on a larger race -- a likely recall election against Gov. Scott Walker.
Barrett hasn't entered the governor's race and says he'll make an announcement about his decision sometime between Friday and Tuesday. However, his actions seem to indicate which way he's leaning.
Tickets for Wednesday's luncheon ranged from $400 each to $2,500 for a table. Mike Tate, the chairman of the state Democratic Party, said there were "several hundred" attendees, but he didn't have an exact count or a tally of how much was raised.
The event was closed to reporters.
Tate said there wasn't necessarily anything to read into the fact that Barrett was actively raising funds six days before a mayoral election he is expected to win with ease.
"I don't know, guys, I guess it's 'politician raises money, news at 11,'" Tate said with a shrug.
He said Barrett didn't mention the recall race or his future plans at the luncheon.
If Barrett does run, he'll need plenty of money to compete with Walker. The Republican governor has raised more than $12 million.
The state elections board is expected to confirm this week that enough valid signatures have been turned in to trigger recall elections against Walker, his secretary of state and four Republican state senators.
Elections in all six races would be May 8, but if any primaries are needed, that date becomes the primary date and the general election would be pushed back to June 5.
The recalls stem from Walker's efforts to effectively end collective bargaining for most public employees, a measure passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature.
Barrett lost to Walker in 2010 by 6 percentage points. Barrett has been thinking about joining the race even though union leaders have privately discouraged him. Barrett has clashed with unions over decisions he's made as mayor.
Even though he's not in the race and hasn't been campaigning, a poll this week by Marquette University found Barrett ahead of fellow Democrat Kathleen Falk.
Falk has won every major endorsement so far, including from major public-sector unions. The former Dane County executive officially entered the race two months ago and has been vocal in her opposition to Walker for more than a year.
Also running are state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout of Alma and longtime Secretary of State Doug La Follette.
The Walker campaign released a statement ahead of Emanuel's appearance saying Barrett was embracing failed Illinois policies.
"(Barrett's) policies, if left unchecked, will wreak havoc on our budding economy," the campaign said.
Emanuel's appearance drew about 75 protesters, most from Chicago and Milwaukee. They criticized the Chicago mayor for ignoring the problems of the poor and said Barrett is hurting his own cause by using an out-of-state politician to help him raise money.
Milwaukee ironworker Randy Bryce, 47, showed up wearing a shirt that said "Proud to be a union thug." He said he would support either Falk or Barrett, whichever one wins the Democratic primary, but that Barrett's reliance on Emanuel was a strike against the Milwaukee mayor.
"I think it's a horrible mistake. He should have had local people," said Bryce, a union member. "This just plays into the hands of Scott Walker, saying people from out of the state are helping make decisions."