DPW Convention Floor
Delegates listen to speakers Saturday afternoon, June 25, at the Democratic Party of Wisconsin state convention in La Crosse. (Photo by Pat Kreitlow)

From the repeal of abortion rights to Republicans ignoring middle class concerns, delegates find motivation in remarks from Gov. Tony Evers, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, and the Democratic candidates to replace Sen. Ron Johnson.

Anyone who expected the state Democratic Party convention to feature progressives crying into their beer over recent events underestimates what strength in numbers will do to turn sadness into motivation.

After a right-wing US Supreme Court overturned the Constitutional right to abortion on Friday, hundreds of convention delegates from throughout the state gathered at the La Crosse Center on Saturday and Sunday to hear from elected officials, candidates, and each other as they strategized how to increase the normally-low voter turnout in midterm elections with no room for error.

“I don’t need to tell you that Wisconsin is now as purple a state as they come,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin said in her convention remarks. “Just look at the past few elections. They were determined by razor thin margins. We are at a pivotal point in our state’s history and this November is truly going to determine the future of the Badger State.”

Baldwin asked for help electing a new Democratic “partner” in the Senate to replace Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who is seeking a third term this fall. It is one of two blockbuster statewide races in November—the other is a fight for Democrats to protect Gov. Tony Evers, who is running for a second term.

“There is so much at stake in 2022,” Evers said in his speech where he criticized former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and primary frontrunner Tim Michels by name. “And we know what will happen if we aren’t successful. My opponents are already running a scorched earth campaign to divide our state. The Republican primary is a race to see who can be the loudest, the most divisive, and the most radical candidate. To put it simply, Wisconsin deserves better.”

Delegates heard from eight Democrats who hope to challenge Johnson by winning the Aug. 9 primary. Four of the contestants are polling at 1% or lower in the most recent Marquette Poll, while the four leading candidates buzzed throughout the convention floor, meeting rooms, and hospitality suites to build up momentum for the final phase of the primary campaign.

“I’m running for the U.S. Senate because I’m sick of this body treating our reproductive freedom like it’s some sort of extra credit project,” state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski said in her remarks. “I want to get things done for working families like affordable child care, paid family leave and affordable senior care. And quite frankly, if we had more working moms at that US Senate table. This would have been done years ago.”

“We just want a fair shot,” said Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes. “And we know that we will never get that fair shot as long as Ron Johnson is in the US Senate. I’m the only Democratic candidate who is leading Ron Johnson with independent voters. Let me remind you this is Wisconsin. If you haven’t realized it, independent voters matter in these close elections. Just like four years ago when we got rid of Scott Walker. I tell you this November, if you join me, I promise you we will get rid of Ron Johnson.”

Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson compared his populist positions to a robust, flavorful Wisconsin beer like Spotted Cow and described his fellow Democrats’ positions as being more like Bud Light.

“To beat Ron Johnson, we cannot offer weak beer,” said Nelson. “If we do serve weak beer this November, we are all in for one hell of a hangover.”

All of the candidates blasted Johnson from a variety of directions—with Nelson describing him as a “lying, treason-loving, woman-hating Putin stooge.”

“He gave tax breaks to his rich donors while raising taxes on the middle class,” said Alex Lasry, Executive Vice President of the Milwaukee Bucks. “He’s attacked organized labor, spread lies about COVID, tried to overthrow the government, and he’s even advocating to ship Wisconsin jobs to South Carolina. I’m running for Senate because of a simple idea. With the right people in the right places working together, we can build great things right here in Wisconsin.”

The convention’s La Crosse venue provided a home-field opportunity for accolades to be rained down upon retiring Congressman Ron Kind, who is not running for reelection in the 3rd Congressional District, a seat he has held since 1997. Kind and others also used the occasion to attack presumptive Republican nominee Derrick Van Orden for his presence on the US Capitol grounds during the insurrection.

The pre-convention rally was designed to express anger at the Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v. Wade. Speaking at the rally, Attorney General Josh Kaul said he would refuse to enforce a reimplemented abortion ban first written into state law in 1849. Evers went a step further and said he would offer clemency to any doctors prosecuted under the ban.