State Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler laid out his strategy for winning the presidential election in November during the Jefferson County Democratic Party’s Presidents Day Dinner.
Nearly 130 persons attended the dinner, held Sunday at Neighbor’s Grill and Pizza in Jefferson.
“We in Wisconsin, we are going to have more impact on every human life that will ever be lived than almost anyone in the entire world,” Wikler said. “The road to the White House comes through Wisconsin. Whoever wins Wisconsin will be our next president.
“It’s an extraordinary thing.”
The state party chief listed achievements that he said defined Wisconsin’s “progressive tradition,” citing workers compensation, unemployment insurance and public radio as among the concepts created within the state.
“Social Security was created by a Wisconsinite, Medicare and Medicaid … so much of what has made the middle class of this nation possible came out of Wisconsin,” he said.
While a Madison high school student, Wikler said, he organized, with help from his mother, Lynn McDonald, who was seated in the audience, debates attended by state legislators. Through the activity, he met Tammy Baldwin and volunteered with her campaign.
He applauded those after 2016 who fought for health care and the Affordable Care Act.
“In 2018, there was the blue wave. We won in every statewide race for the first time since 1982 in the State of Wisconsin. And this was after everything Walker had done to break this state to end democracy here,” he said.
Gov. Walker, he said, “took aim” at everything that made democracy function, including voter registration and ID laws, and campaign finance laws, and he employed statewide gerrymandering.
“They did everything they could to rig the rules, and we overcame them. And (we) showed that this is not a red state, this is a purple state that has a blue heart,” Wikler said.
Because of successes in 2018, he said, “Wisconsin is now the tipping-point state.
“If we’d lost, Wisconsin would not even be a battleground state,” he added.
Said Wikler: “The Trump campaign had a closed-door strategy briefing and their senior advisor and legal counsel said Wisconsin is the state that tips this one way or the other.
“Everyone looking at this election sees Wisconsin as the state that matters most.”
Advertisements supporting Trump and his staffers already are in Wisconsin, but, Wikler said, they will not outperform what he termed the Democrats’ secret weapon: “people power.”
“Their strength comes from their propaganda: They have Fox News, they have 81 right-wing talk radio stations in Wisconsin, they have these explosively dominant social media feeds … that has a lot of underhanded stuff that should be banned, but it’s not.
“We control how early we start and how hard we work,” he continued. “We cannot take anyone for granted and we cannot write anyone off. We have to fight in cities and suburbs and in rural areas.”
Wikler added that people talking and making connections to people within their own communities is a winning strategy.
“That is how we cut through the Republican noise machine,” he said.
Wikler laid out a five-point strategy represented by the acronym WISCO.
Within the acronym, he said:
• “W” stands for winning races in April. He said the spring elections serve as a dress rehearsal for the November election, giving party organizers a chance to see what did and didn’t work, and then allowing a six-month window to adjust strategies.
• “I” is for “inspire, train and recruit thousands of volunteers at the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee.
“The eyes of the world will be on Wisconsin. For us, it is a chance to supercharge our organizing,” he said.
• “S,” he said, stands for “stop the GOP from getting a supermajority in our state Legislature. This is their number one goal.
“If they get three seats in each chamber they will be able to override the governor’s veto and re-gerrymander the state for another decade.
“We stop them by organizing in our state legislative races like they are just as important as the presidential election, because, frankly, they are,” he said.
• “C” stands for “cancel Trump’s second inaugural, Wikler said.
That would be achieved by nominating a candidate and then making sure the candidate works with the people who have local knowledge, he said.
• “O” means organize for the long term.
“Democracy is not one and done. We had the amazing election night of 2008, and then came the horrible night in 2010. We know that 2022, after we elect a Democratic president, could be a Republican backlash year. The right is not going to sit on its hands as we try to undo the damage of the Trump years and build something better than we ever had before. They are going to fight back. We, this time, are going to be ready,” Wikler said.
He asked those in attendance to help spread the word about building organization.
“A million things can go wrong; I can’t promise that this will work, but we have our best shot, and the buzz from across the country about what’s happening in Wisconsin would knock your socks off. It’s because of the work that people here and the people in county parties across the state are doing that the country is looking to Wisconsin as the model for how organizing can work.”
The organization will stay in place after the presidential election, he said, adding: “We’ve got to be here in 2022, when we have our first election with new maps, we’ve got to be here in 2024, to re-elect the next Democratic president. We are going to keep fighting and make this a blue trifecta state and pass reforms to how we draw maps, to how we allow people to vote (and) make Wisconsin a democracy again, and then we are going to pass the progressive agenda into law.
“We can do all of that, but it is a long-term fight.
“We are building to win, and we are building to last … that is the work of democracy,” Wikler said.
Wikler shared the podium with several Democratic candidates, including Tom Palzewicz, running for the 5th Congressional District seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner; Mason Becker, Fort Atkinson, running for the 33rd Assembly District post held by state Rep. Cody Horlacher; and Melissa Winker, running for the 38th Assembly District seat held by state Rep. Barbara Dittrich.
Palzewicz described himself as a Navy veteran, in banking for 15 years, and a business owner. His dad was a bully, he said, which forged in him a desire to stand up to bullies.
“All through my life, I’ve stuck up for people who need help from a justice standpoint, who need help from an equality standpoint, who need help standing up to people, and that 2016 election hurt, because we elected a president in my mind who is the ultimate bully,” he said.
He described his opponent, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, as “another bully.”
According to Palzewicz, the 5th Congressional District is “changing rapidly,” and “starting to turn blue.”
“Our district is 35-percent Democrat, it’s 56-percent Republican and it’s 9-percent independent. We think we are going to get 60 percent of that nine, so that puts us over 40. That means we need 17 percent of those Republicans,” he said.
His campaign plans to target college-educated men and women, young mothers, whom he said, care about issues like climate change, health care and gun violence prevention, reaching them by knocking on doors and through social media.
Becker, of Fort Atkinson, gave examples of concerns shared with him by those he’d met while campaigning. He said parents were tired of having to decide whether to pay rent or buy a prescription EpiPen for their child, and teachers were tired of buying classroom supplies with their own money, and worried about active shooter drills.
People were tired of having “no real say in their state government, because the Republicans have so badly gerrymandered the state of Wisconsin that the people no longer get to pick their representatives, because the politicians get to pick their borders,” he said.
Winker, of Oconomowoc, described herself as a fifth-generation constituent in her district, a professional and a mother.
“Political activism is necessary because the majority party is no longer listening to the people,” opting instead to support special interest groups, she said.
She spoke about several lakes in the district listed by the EPA as impaired waters, and a concern statewide about clean drinking water.
She further cited health insurance costs, and what she described as “unfettered and unchallenged rights to guns,” which she said were supported by the GOP.
“These issues, plus fair funding for our public schools, nonpartisan redistricting and preparing for a long-term sustainable economy for our great state are the reasons why I’m campaigning for this important seat,” she said.
Incumbent Democratic state Sen. Janis Ringhand, District 15, and Rep. Don Vruwink, District 43, also offered some remarks during the program.