MILWAUKEE — Wisconsin Republican leaders were defiant in the face of a predicted "blue wave" of Democratic victories as they rallied supporters at the party's state convention on Saturday.
"That blue wave is about to crash into the red wall," said state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, addressing a room of Republican activists and supporters from throughout the state.
While both Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, proclaimed the Legislature's resistance to Democratic gains, Gov. Scott Walker warned the party faithful they need to "wake up."
"This election is going to be tougher than any we’ve faced so far — and the consequences are greater than ever," Walker said. "We don’t want to go back to the days of double-digit tax increases, billion-dollar budget deficits and record job loss. That’s what it was like when Democrats last controlled state government."
Walker led the room in a call-and-response exercise as he listed Republican achievements that would be "gone" if Democrats win the governor's mansion and majorities in the state Legislature, including record-low unemployment, voter ID, lower property taxes, the state's deal with Foxconn, drug testing requirements for welfare, "protection for the unborn and elderly," the "ability to protect yourself and your family" and a $100-per-child tax rebate for parents and grandparents.
Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch laid out what she called the Democratic game plan, a vision based on a proposed constitutional amendment introduced in March by Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison.
The amendment would make a broad set of changes to the state's bill of rights, including restoring collective bargaining rights, prohibiting religious schools from receiving public funds, eliminating the Legislature's ability to create exemptions to the income tax and allowing local governments to set their own ordinances on carrying guns.
The proposal would "fundamentally change our founding document and the way we live life," Kleefisch said, adding that Democrats "want to raise your taxes by billions of dollars to fund it all."
"If there’s a blue wave coming, our conservative reforms will be among the first things to go," said Attorney General Brad Schimel. "If the liberals get back in power, Wisconsin will look more like Illinois and San Francisco than the prosperous growing state that we are today."
At least nine Democrats are vying for the chance to challenge Walker in November. With no clear frontrunner, Walker's opponent may not be determined until the August 14 primary election.
One of those opponents, Milwaukee businessman Andy Gronik, was stationed outside the downtown Milwaukee convention center with a mobile billboard displaying a "Follow the Money" message. Gronik and his supporters also handed out "funny money" to highlight campaign contributions Walker has taken from groups like the National Rifle Association.
Democrats could benefit from a sharp enthusiasm gap. According to a Marquette University Law School poll released in March, 64 percent of Democrats are "very enthusiastic" about voting, compared to 54 percent of Republicans. At the same time of year before the 2014 midterm elections, Republicans had a three-percent enthusiasm edge over Democrats.
But Democrats had enthusiasm on their side going into the election when they failed to recall Walker and Kleefisch in 2012, several Republicans noted.
Democrats said the tone of the convention speeches showed that Republicans are panicking.
"Whether it’s our commitment to ensuring affordable, quality health care for all, our pledge to fully fund our public classrooms or our promise to build an economy that works for everyone, Wisconsinites from all walks of life are responding enthusiastically to our positive vision for the state, and it has Republicans terrified," said Democratic Party of Wisconsin chairwoman Martha Laning.