Six Questions for Democratic Convention
Can the party revive in Wisconsin? That depends on these six questions.
This weekend’s state Democratic Party convention might be described as put up or shut up time for the out-of-power party.
Democratic activists who gather in Oshkosh will vet the party’s 10-plus candidates for governor, shower love on U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and rip President Trump, the first Republican presidential candidate in a generation to carry Wisconsin.
But they’ll also have to answer a few questions that are critical to its future.
1. Is there really an “enthusiasm gap”?
In March, Marquette University’s poll found that 64 percent of Democrats described themselves as very motivated to vote this year, but only 54 percent of Republicans used that term.
That 10 percentage point gap worries top Republicans, including GOP Gov. Scott Walker, seeking a third term on Nov. 6. The same poll found Walker’s approval rating 47% favorable and 47% unfavorable – a deadlock that has him afraid he could be an enthusiasm gap casualty.
2. Does Tony Evers have any “charisma”?
One of the tribe of Democratic candidates running for governor — perhaps the front runner — is career educator Evers, who has won three statewide elections as superintendent of public instruction. Evers is more wonk than charismatic leader and public speaker. His convention speech gives him a chance to separate himself from the other Democrats running and build momentum for his summer of campaigning. Or not.
Last week, the Evers campaign said a Public Policy Polling survey had him beating Walker, 49 percent to 45 percent. Evers Campaign Manager Maggie Gau wants the poll to set the table for a winning convention. “We now know Tony Evers absolutely can beat him,” she said in a statement.
3. Will party unify behind whoever is its gubernatorial nominee?
Humility is not a personality trait that defines some of the Democrats running for governor. The successes they have achieved in politics and their careers means they see themselves as leaders- not followers. So, in their convention speeches, how will they balance touting their successes, explaining why they more qualified than the other Democrats running and attacking Walker?
One veteran Democratic state senator recently privately said three candidates have the best chance of being that nominee: Evers, Rep. Dana Wachs, of Eau Claire, and former Rep. Kelda Roys, of Madison.
To speak to the convention, a candidate for governor must file 2,000 signatures, proving they have broad support. Will all 10-plus make that cut?
4. Will Democrats justify GOP’s “angry, haters” label?
Before, during and after the state Republican Party convention May 12, Walker has repeatedly referred to Democrats as being motivated by “anger and hatred.”
Walker hopes Democrats prove that at this weekend’s convention, denouncing both him and President Trump in the most ugly, vicious terms. Walker’s campaign can then use sound-bite snippets from those speeches in pre-Nov. 6 ads telling voters Democrats are too angry to govern.
Will Democratic convention speakers be able to pause in their repudiations of Trump and Walker long enough to cast a positive vision for the future?
5. Is it really “Year of Women”?
An unusually high number of female Democratic candidates registered with the State Elections Commission as potential candidates for legislative seats. But will they all meet the 5 p.m. Friday deadline to file nomination papers to actually run?
Roys and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, of Alma, are the most experienced female Democrats running for governor. Roys served in the Assembly and ran for Congress. After three Senate terms, Vinehout is giving up that seat to run for governor.
6. What is Kenosha County’s political temperature?
For decades, Kenosha County was solidly Democratic. President Obama got 59 percent of its vote in 2008; 56 percent in 2012. Kenosha’s mayor, the county executive and its current Assembly representative, Peter Barca, are former party leaders in the Capitol.
Kenosha County’s colorful state senator in the 1980s and ‘90s, Democrat Joe Andrea, once told the Senate there were only two pictures hanging in his home’s living room growing up – President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Jesus Christ.
Andrea died in 2002 – 14 years before President Trump won Kenosha County with 50.1 percent of the vote on Nov. 8, 2016. That reflected a county changed by explosive economic development and Illinois refugees.
If Kenosha County Democrats are fired up this weekend, that could be a bad sign for Republicans.