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Biden in Madison

Former Vice President Joe Biden urged Wisconsin voters to elect candidates with character as he campaigned for U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers on Tuesday.

"This is bigger than politics, this election. It really is bigger than politics. You know, there’s something different," Biden told a crowd of about 1,000 on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. "I think we’re in the battle for America’s soul."

Recalling the anti-war, civil rights and women's rights activism of the 1960s, Biden said he senses the same energy among young adults that he felt when he graduated from college, and encouraged them to harness the power of their votes. 

Biden's visit comes days after former President Barack Obama rallied thousands of Democrats in Milwaukee and about a week after President Donald Trump visited central Wisconsin to stump for Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Leah Vukmir.

Both Biden and Obama framed the stakes of the midterm elections in stark terms. Obama told voters in Milwaukee last week that "the character of the country is on the ballot."

"Today more than ever, we need women and men in public life with character," Biden said as he praised Baldwin and Evers. "We have to restore the character of the country." 

The former vice president briefly brought Evers' wife, Kathy, to the stage as he acknowledged that "running for governor is a team sport." Biden joked that Evers "owes a lot to Wisconsin's public schools" since he met his wife in kindergarten.

"She was too young to resist," Biden then quipped. 

Evers is locked in a dead-heat race with Walker, while Baldwin leads Vukmir by double digits according to recent polls.

Biden praised Evers' career as an educator, arguing that "no one has done more for Wisconsin students." Evers was a teacher, principal and administrator before being elected three times as state Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The former vice president also lauded Baldwin as a "quiet and steady champion for affordable care."

Health care has been a prominent theme throughout Wisconsin's gubernatorial and Senate campaigns, as Wisconsin is one of several states suing the federal government to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

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According to a Marquette University Law School poll released earlier this month, 50 percent of voters surveyed said they support keeping the Obama-era federal health care policy on the books, while 44 percent support repealing it. Ninety-three percent of voters said the ACA’s requirement that insurance companies cover people with pre-existing conditions is somewhat or very important to them.

As he discussed a recent string of violent events — the massacre of worshipers at a Pittsburgh synagogue, a racially motivated shooting at a Kentucky grocery store and the mailing of explosive devices to prominent Democrats and CNN — Biden framed them as symptoms of hatred and division being allowed to flourish in the United States. 

"Folks, we’re so much better than this. I know sometimes it feels these days that anger and hatred and viciousness are about to overwhelm us, but it’s up to our leaders to … restore some dignity to our national debate," Biden said, urging voters to start in their day-to-day lives.

Biden visited Wisconsin in 2016 to urge voters to support Hillary Clinton and former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, just a few days before the state would elect Trump and Republican Sen. Ron Johnson. 

Ahead of Biden's visit, Walker tweeted: "Irony: Joe Biden, who had to drop out of the presidential race because of a plagiarism scandal, is in for Tony Evers who has his own plagiarism scandal."

Biden ended his 1988 presidential campaign when it was reported that he had plagiarized a speech. It was reported earlier this month that portions of Evers' Department of Public Instruction budget request were plagiarized. 

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.