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State Dems working to negate incumbency edge

Coming off the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s first-ever virtual state convention, Chair Ben Wikler says the party has built a “presidential-class campaign” that will now link up seamlessly with the operation of presumptive nominee Joe Biden.

The party is in a position to do that, in part, because its fundraising has increased dramatically since Wikler took over as chair a year ago. Democrats finished the spring pre-election period with a more than 5-to-1 cash advantage over the Republican Party of Wisconsin in their state accounts.

The chair told in advance of the June 12 virtual state convention that the party has also dramatically ramped up organizing efforts. He said the state party has 72 field organizers for the 2020 election, which is more than what the party had on Election Day in 2018.

Wikler declined to provide specifics of its field effort. But he said the expansion builds upon the work of predecessor Martha Laning and the efforts of thousands in the party across Wisconsin.

It also comes as Biden has yet to announce a state director or other infrastructure in Wisconsin to lead his campaign through the November election. That has raised concerns among some Democrats about the presumptive nominee’s organization compared to what President Trump has built with the RNC and state parties.

But Wikler was unfazed, saying the campaign is “moving aggressively” to lock in talent in Wisconsin. Plus, he said the campaign has the state party to lean on.

“It puts us into a position where we’ve essentially erased the advantage an incumbent normally has in a presidential election because of what we’ve been able to build,” Wikler said.

Wikler’s first state convention as chair was unlike any other the party has seen. Rather than the usual two-day affair of activists gathering at a convention hall for speeches, meetings and training, elected officials delivered a series of taped messages. The convention was slated to last less than three hours and included voting on four DNC slots.

Biden and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders addressed the convention, along with Wisconsin elected officials.

Wikler said the core message of the convention would be that Wisconsinites are “desperate for change” from the Trump administration and that is translating into a wave of organizing and energy to turn Wisconsin blue this fall.

The virtual convention also came as it remained uncertain whether national Democrats follow through with an in-person convention in Milwaukee as originally planned.

The national party selected Wisconsin for its 2020 convention for a number of reasons, including a symbolic commitment to a swing state that Hillary Clinton lost four years ago as she failed to campaign here during the general election. National Chair Tom Perez this week said he is confi dent the Democratic National Convention will be in Milwaukee come August in some capacity, though he didn’t yet know how many people would attend due to COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Republicans this week moved the keynotes of their convention to Jacksonville, Fla., from Charlotte, following a dust-up between North Carolina officials and the president’s campaign over possible restrictions that may have been put on the event due to COVID-19. Meanwhile, Trump is again starting up his campaign rallies.

Wikler said he was focused on the state convention and declined to opine on what the national event should look like or whether Biden should come to Wisconsin to accept the nomination regardless of the DNC’s format.

The Capitol Report is written by editorial staff at, a nonpartisan, Madisonbased news service that specializes in coverage of government and politics, and is distributed for publication by members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.

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