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State officials focus on Wisconsin's importance in 2020 election as DNC launches online

From the Follow the Wisconsin State Journal's 2020 presidential election coverage series
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While Democrats’ No. 1 goal this November is unseating President Donald Trump, Gov. Tony Evers urged state delegates to the Democratic National Convention Monday to devote as much effort to down-ballot races so Republicans can’t secure veto-proof majorities in the state Assembly and Senate.

“Beating Trump is just one piece of the puzzle,” Evers said during an online delegate breakfast meeting. “We should be doing more to elect better city councilors, better state legislators, better members of Congress and senators.”

The four-day convention — originally planned to draw more than 50,000 visitors to Milwaukee — launched Monday, and will be carried out mostly online.

“We aren’t having the type of convention that we wanted this year and we all know why,” Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said. “Milwaukee and Wisconsin will continue to be in the spotlight as we think about this upcoming November.”

U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, one of the few Wisconsin officials to speak Monday, offered one of the most energized speeches of the night.

“This is a city where blood was shed for labor rights, where a fugitive slave was freed from prison, where women’s right to vote was first ratified,” Moore said. “But today we gather virtually. However, we gather unified in spirit, unified in our values and purpose to heal divisions, and together move the nation confidently into a prosperous, inclusive future.”

Moore said she was embracing the convention’s online approach, which she said has the potential to allow even more access to attendees than an in-person event.

For several officials, Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 1,000 Wisconsinites and infected more than 66,000 people in the state, was to blame for the convention’s online format.

“The mismanagement and total utter failure of leadership during a pandemic is laid out starkly and it’s why we are responsibly holding our convention virtually,” said U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison.

As the four-day DNC launches a convention like no other this week, Trump and his administration have ramped up in-person campaigning efforts across the state.

Trump made stops Monday in Wisconsin and Minnesota, and his son Eric Trump will be in Milwaukee on Tuesday to discuss the president’s “unwavering support for our nation’s heroic law enforcement and recent endorsement from the International Union of Police Association,” according to a statement. Vice President Mike Pence is expected to visit the state on Wednesday.

Both campaigns know how crucial Wisconsin’s role will be in the November election. Trump secured a razor-thin victory here in 2016 over Hillary Clinton, who crucially failed to visit the state during the general election campaign and lost by about 23,000 votes.

“Whoever wins Wisconsin wins the White House,” said Ben Wikler, chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. “We know how close how many elections have been in this state. Our plan is to make this not close in November.”

Early dissent

Some delegates already have signaled a rejection to Biden’s platform for failing to include a commitment to Medicare for All, championed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Last week, more than 800 national delegates — including almost 20 from Wisconsin — signed a pledge “to vote against any 2020 Platform that does not include a universal, single-payer, Medicare-For-All platform plank.”

“What we were more doing was trying to draw attention to the fact that Medicare for All is not just popular, it is extremely popular and to see the party kind of blatantly give up the middle finger on that, considering the platform is nonbinding ... we found that disgusting,” said William Walter, 26, a Sanders delegate from Germantown.

Sanders suspended his presidential campaign in April, one day after Wisconsin’s presidential preference primary, but he pledged to continue gathering delegates with the hopes of gaining leverage over the party platform.

A draft of the 2020 platform does not include the single-payer Medicare system backed by Sanders, but states that “we are proud our party welcomes advocates who want to build on and strengthen the Affordable Care Act and those who support a Medicare for All approach; all are critical to ensuring that health care is a human right.”

Sending a message

Sanders delegate Isabel Klemmer, 18, of Mequon, said an all-online convention has made it challenging to apply pressure to the platform’s direction. While not enough votes to sway the platform, the pledge is meant to send a message, she said.

“Certainly the absence of actual political pressure and the absence of having the power to push for these amendments is definitely detrimental,” Klemmer said. “We’re just hoping this symbolic pressure will help create outrage and hopefully be something that the DNC feels is necessary to respond to.”

Walter said it’s difficult to know for certain how such a platform will play out in November, but said a lack of popular progressive issues like single-payer Medicare or legalized marijuana could dampen enthusiasm among some voters.

“If you are expecting them to simply fall in line because you are the lesser of two evils, that is not a sustainable strategy,” Walter said. “If your entire campaign is based on, ‘Well, I’m not the other guy,’ then don’t be disappointed when people who want to see good policy don’t come out and vote for you.”

“Whoever wins Wisconsin wins the White House.” Ben Wikler, chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin

"Whoever wins Wisconsin wins the White House."

Ben Wikler, chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin

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