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Tony Evers and Mandela Barnes

Gov. Tony Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, shown here on election night last November, hope Democrats can duplicate the elation felt that night in upcoming elections.

MILWAUKEE — Gov. Tony Evers told Wisconsin Democrats Saturday that they mustn’t let Republicans “bait us” in the 2020 campaign, urging party activists to tout their own values instead of bashing others.

Topping a list of Democratic speakers, Evers gave the keynote address Saturday at the Democratic Party of Wisconsin convention at Potawatomi Hotel and Casino.

The event was equal parts celebration of Democrats’ sweeping electoral wins in 2018 — and a look ahead to the task confronting them in 2020.

Wisconsin, after supporting President Donald Trump in 2016, is widely viewed as the potential tipping point state in Trump’s reelection bid next year. And Milwaukee will be on the national stage for a week in 2020 as it hosts the Democratic National Convention.

Evers attributed his election win over former GOP Gov. Scott Walker, in part, to his campaign’s tight focus on his priorities of health care, roads and education. He suggested the value of a positive, focused message is among the lessons from 2018 that should apply to 2020.

“We can’t let them bait us,” Evers said. Republicans’ words and actions, he said, “speak for themselves.”

The role of Democratic Party standard-bearer and cheerleader is new territory for Evers who, as the longtime state superintendent, wasn’t directly involved in partisan politics until launching his governor bid in 2017.

Yet in the next 18 months, the stakes for Wisconsin Democrats under his watch couldn’t be higher.

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes vowed that Wisconsin won’t back Trump again in 2020. But Barnes, striking a similar note to Evers, warned that Democrats must do more than simply oppose Trump, or they won’t beat him.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, cited Milwaukee’s role hosting the national convention as evidence national Democrats understand the road to the White House goes through Wisconsin.

Moore cites impeachment

In a big-picture finish to her remarks that invoked the upcoming D-Day anniversary and the Stonewall riots, an LGBT-rights landmark, Baldwin asked Democratic delegates what they’re doing now that similarly will be remembered decades later.

U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, acknowledged her support for impeaching President Donald Trump. But Moore added that she “knows where Nancy is going” — referring to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has been publicly cool to the prospect of impeachment.

“We’re going to continue to investigate; that’s our duty,” Moore said.

Democratic speakers hailed Evers’ election last year as a turning point for the state. But they said more must be done to help him overcome opposition from Republicans who control the Legislature.

State Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said GOP legislative leaders are working through “five stages of grief” after relinquishing complete control of state government in the 2018 elections.

Assembly Democratic Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said GOP-gerrymandered districts are partly responsible for the party’s lockstep legislative opposition to Evers’ agenda.

“If there’s no chance for you to lose, there’s no accountability,” Hintz said.

State Attorney General Josh Kaul acknowledged gridlock in the state Capitol but said “change is underway” there. Kaul cited his office’s work to withdraw Wisconsin from a multi-state lawsuit aiming to strike down Obamacare in court, and a suit his office brought against opioid maker Purdue Pharma.

Seeking rural vote

Andrea Christofferson attended the convention as a first-time delegate Saturday.

Christofferson, of rural Dekorra Township in Columbia County, said she thinks Trump’s success with rural voters is in part linked to their frustration with what she called “conventional politics.” She said Democrats need to be more deeply invested in local communities to win back a greater share of the rural vote.

“Their pocketbooks, their schools — we’ve got to start there,” she said.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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