Ordinarily, when an incumbent politician states that he doesn't plan on running for office for another term (when doing so is legal, of course), it can mean trouble for that political party's hold on that office. The incumbency advantage is nothing to laugh about -- in 2002, less than 4.5 percent of all Congresspersons running for re-election lost. In a two party system, the odds of losing an office you already hold go up nearly tenfold if the office-holder decides they aren't running again.
When Gov. Jim Doyle announces Monday that he won't seek re-election in 2010, however, it might actually be a good thing for Democrats. Doyle's poll numbers show that his approval rating is only 34 percent, with 60 percent of voters disapproving of his job performance as governor.
Meanwhile, disapproval for GOP front runner Scott Walker is near that of Jim Doyle's, at 31 percent. But 37 percent of Wisconsinites don't know what to think of Walker. As a relatively unknown candidate elsewhere in Wisconsin, having one-third of the state already disapproving of your job performance is a very serious problem to face one year away from the general election.
A formidable Democratic gubernatorial candidate, then, could prove to be a real challenge for Walker. For the Democrats, such a candidate is better than a candidate that the people have lost their confidence in. Doyle's decision to sit out the election next fall is not only good for him politically, but also for the party he represents. We can expect a close race in 2010, with Democrats already having a slim advantage.