Wisconsin Republican organizers and activists say they are optimistic about their chances to again deliver the state for President Donald Trump next fall.
And the way to do so, GOP strategists told 200 attendees at a conservative conference Saturday, is clear: cut into Democratic margins in Milwaukee and Dane counties, run up the vote in the suburbs and the Fox Valley, maintain Republican support in northern Wisconsin and get conservatives who didn't support Trump in 2016 to vote for him next year.
"At the end of the day, it still comes down to voter contact. You’ve got to know where to go get the votes," said Bill McCoshen, a Republican strategist and lobbyist who managed former Gov. Tommy Thompson’s 1994 campaign.
The comments came at the Conservative Political Education Conference in West Allis, an all-day event that tackled key 2020 issues and strategies to keep Wisconsin red.
Both McCoshen and former state Rep. Joe Handrick, an elections data analyst, predicted increased turnout next year compared to 2016, meaning Republicans would have to find extra votes to carry Trump, the first GOP presidential candidate to win Wisconsin since 1984, over the finish line again.
McCoshen said Republicans need to generate turnout in Milwaukee and Dane counties similar to 2012 levels, when former President Barack Obama faced off against then-candidate Mitt Romney. Replicating Romney's margins in those counties would give Trump an extra 41,000 votes, he said.
Meanwhile, Handrick pointed to the open Milwaukee-area 5th Congressional District race as a way for Republicans to gin up turnout and aid the top of the ticket. He credited retiring U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, for doing "the party a real favor by choosing this exact time to retire."
"If they're out voting for other Republicans on the ticket, it seems to me that we can get them to vote for Donald Trump one way or another," he said.
Attendees Saturday were also briefed on a variety of issues ranging from health care to immigration to foreign affairs — topics that could come up in 2020-related conversations with friends and neighbors.
Oak Creek resident Terry Kowalski, who said she went to the conference in part to get a feel for where Trump stands in Wisconsin and how to get him re-elected, touted the president's accomplishments over his first term.
"I think there's a lot of enthusiasm," she said. "Someone said, I forget who it was, 'It's the economy, stupid.' And look at the economy."
When looking ahead to the general election next year, Kowalski said former Vice President Joe Biden as the Democratic nominee could make for "a much more interesting race." But if U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren make it through, "it's going to be capitalism versus socialism, there's no doubt."
"Socialism will not win, you won't convince me," she said. "Middle America will never go for it."
Connie Ross, a retiree who splits her time between Milwaukee and Florida, described Republicans in both states as "enthusiastic and determined" heading into 2020.
Ross, who first started getting involved in elections last year, said that prior to 2016, she was politically "meek" — always a conservative, but not one to speak openly about it, let alone turn out voters.
And now, with her being "in two states that are both going to be close calls," she stressed the importance of voter outreach efforts in the months leading up to Election Day.
"This is not the time to be quiet," she said. "This is not the time to let things happen."
The all-day event, which came after the first week of public impeachment hearings wrapped up, also included appearances from U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, congressional candidate and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and former U.S. Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson.
But talk about the impeachment inquiry itself was limited among the speakers.
Steil in an impassioned speech briefly slammed the probe as "a conversation and a political answer to what we're getting done in Washington," as the Janesville Republican likened it to what Wisconsin witnessed in the recall elections following the passage of "conservative reforms" in 2011 under then-Gov. Scott Walker.
And Johnson said Democrats have "got nothing," adding the effort "is just a continuation of the latest manifestation of the left’s hatred of Trump."
The conference also featured tables laden with Trump-related merchandise and information on the National Rifle Association, Americans for Prosperity, Pro-Life Wisconsin and state Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly, whose seat is up for election in the spring.