Democrats, Republicans consider fall candidates at state party conventions

Author:  Will Kenneally
OSHKOSH/MADISON — The Wisconsin political convention season wrapped earlier this month, with both Democratic and Republican candidates looking to set themselves apart in their primary fields ahead of the August partisan primary.
The Democrats:
On the Democratic side, ten gubernatorial candidates took to the stage in Oshkosh to make their best case to convention goers.
Coming out with an edge after the weekend was former state Rep. Kelda Roys, who won a WisPolitics straw poll of convention attendees. She captured 23.3 percent of the 789 votes cast, followed by firefighters union president Mahlon Mitchell and state superintendent Tony Evers who received 11.8 and 11.5 percent of the vote respectively.
“Today’s poll proves that Wisconsin voters are excited to vote for a leader with a positive vision for our state,” Roys said in a statement released from the convention.
Madison Mayor Paul Soglin received only one vote in the convention straw poll, which Soglin’s campaign manager called “a meaningless measure” in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinelarticle.
“The scientific polling we’ve done shows Paul Soglin is a leading candidate,” Soglin campaign manager Melissa Mulliken said.
What the candidates said:
Each candidate received five minutes to speak at the convention, a tight time limit to allow all ten candidates to cycle through in a timely matter.
The ten-person field includes: former state Rep. Kelda Roys, state schools superintendent Tony Evers, state firefighter union president Mahlon Mitchell, Milwaukee businessman Andy Gronik,  Kenosha attorney Josh Pade, state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, political activist Mike McCabe, former state Democratic Party chair Matt Flynn, and state Rep. Dana Wachs.
Topics ranged from personal anecdotes to issues such as healthcare and school funding. Mitchell told the story of a firefighter colleague who was in an accident.
“What happens in the state of Wisconsin when someone doesn’t have brothers and sisters there to help build a house like we did for Casey?” Mitchell asked. “The question is…can we make sure we take care of all citizens in the state.”
Vinehout shared a story of a single mother in Racine.
“I’m running for governor to put Rachel first in terms of state spending, first when it comes to making state policy,” Vinehout said. “Foxconn…doesn’t need a handout, but people in our state like Rachel need a hand up.”
A couple of candidates touched on the issues of schools. Roys spoke to the need for school funding.
“We’re going to be famous again for having the best schools in the nation…schools with enough funding to fuel the aspirations of every learner,” Roys said.
Evers too spoke to school funding, saying “I am God [expletive] sick of [Gov. Scott] Walker gutting our public schools.”
Candidates also spoke to the issue of healthcare. Wachs said for one of his staffers, working on his campaign was the first time they had had health care.
“It breaks my heart, because Wisconsin is better than Scott Walker…In our Wisconsin everyone will have access to good, affordable healthcare because healthcare is a right, not a privilege,” Wachs said.
Gronik spoke to the need to bolster rural healthcare infrastructure.
“If rural healthcare goes out of business, what happens to all those jobs…not on my watch,” Gronik said.
McCabe offered a “dare to dream…in making Badgercare [Wisconsin’s version of Medicaid] a public option available to anybody anywhere in the state of Wisconsin.”
Some candidates spoke to unique issues as well. Flynn was the only candidate to mention the legalization of marijuana.
“I will legalize marijuana, and I will pardon everybody in the jails and prisons of this state who are there for a minor possession offence,” Flynn said.
Soglin touched on the issue of labor and the Act 10 protests.
“We must protect our labor from Walker exploitation–no excuses, no exceptions, no exploitation,” Soglin said.
Pade focused his speech on the notion of listening to Wisconsin voters.
“We need leadership… we’re not going to do it based on establishment politics or based on talking points driven by polls or consultants,” Pade said. “We’re going to do it by being who we are, talking to our neighbors and listening.”
What the attendees thought:
Most in attendance said they were unaffected by the candidates’ speeches when asked if they changed their minds. Some already had their minds made up before they arrived, others remained undecided throughout the whole process.
John Boguski, a graduate student at UW-Madison, said he wanted more information on how the candidates compared with each other on issues before he would make up his mind on how to vote.
In their speeches and on the campaign trail, candidates have been touting two lines: their credentials on Democratic issues and their ability to beat Walker in November. Convention attendees were mixed on which factor was more important to them.
“I don’t want to throw away a vote,” said Colleen Lassiter of Mt. Pleasant. “I really want to back someone who I feel really has a chance of winning.”
“I think it’s important for us to vote for ourselves. I think in voting for ourselves we do both,” John Stanley of Deforest said.
The Republicans:
On the Republican side, state Sen. Leah Vukmir, Brookfield, won her party’s endorsement to challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Madison, for U.S. Senate. She received 73 percent of the endorsement vote, beating her primary opponent Kevin Nicholson at the state party’s May convention in Milwaukee.
“After all the work we’ve done together with Gov. [Scott] Walker to turn Wisconsin around, it’s so humbling to have their unwavering endorsement in my race to take that change to Washington,” Vukmir said in a statement after the convention.
Nicholson, a Delafield businessman, downplayed the importance of the endorsement.
“We went in without any goal of winning the endorsement. We had the weekend we anticipated,” he said at a campaign stop shortly after the convention.
Nicholson told the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram “we have a massive amount of momentum, it’s going to take an outsider to beat Tammy Baldwin.”
In convention speeches, Republican officials spoke to the need to bolster party support ahead of what they see as mounting Democratic momentum. Walker called the two elections earlier this year a “wakeup call.”
“We’re going to have to work harder than ever before,” Walker said. “As I mentioned before, the left is motivated, motivated by anger and hatred. We need to counter it with organization and optimism going forward.”
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, Juneau, said Republicans are ready to defend their accomplishments.
“Thanks to the dedicated conservatives in this room, that ‘blue wave’ is about to crash into the red wall,” Fitzgerald said.

The party also passed a series of resolutions that included proposed changes to the state’s voting requirements. The proposed changes include the ending same-day voter registration and requiring temporary residents, which include students, to vote in their place of permanent residence.