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Illinois governor to headline Wisconsin Democratic Party convention

JB Pritzker will give the keynote address at next week's state party convention in Milwaukee

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Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker speaks before President Joe Biden at an event with United Auto Workers at the Community Building Complex of Boone County, Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023, in Belvidere, Ill. The Illinois General Assembly has adopted a $53.1 billion state budget for the year that begins July 1, but it took the House until the break of dawn on Wednesday, May 29, 2024 to get it done. Evan Vucci/AP Photo

The Wisconsin Democratic Party will hold its annual convention in Milwaukee next week, and the keynote speaker will be heading up from south of the state border.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is due to give the keynote speech at the event, to be held June 8 and 9 at Milwaukee’s Potawatomi Casino Hotel, according to the party.

Ben Wikler, who chairs the state party, said Pritzker, a noted progressive, will draw a contrast between Democratic policies and the agenda of former President Donald Trump.

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“J.B. Pritzker, I think, is a great example of a Democratic leader who can make such a electrifying case for why we need to elect Democrats up and down the ballot in 2024,” Wikler said.

Pritzker will also be host of the Democratic National Convention when it takes place in Chicago in August. That’s been seen by some as a sign of his national ambitions — an aspect of his political career that has been scrutinized for years. A billionaire businessman and hotel empire heir, he’s overseen the legalization of recreational marijuana, an increased minimum wage, and stronger protections of abortion access since taking office in 2019.

Leveraging that progressive record will help Wisconsin Democrats illustrate their own policy priorities in a year when — thanks to new legislative maps — they’re eyeing a power shift in the state Legislature, said Philip Rocco, a political scientist at Marquette University.

“Pritzker nicely allows Democrats to illustrate the kind of policy advantages for their voters of having a Democratic trifecta in control of state government,” he said, referring to the current divide in Wisconsin between Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and the GOP-held state Legislature. It’s a stark contrast to Illinois, where in addition to the governor’s office, Democrats hold lopsided majorities in the Legislature.

Pritzker has also helped the Democratic Party of Wisconsin financially, donating millions to the party over the past few election cycles.

“Governor JB Pritzker is honored to join Wisconsin Democrats to thank them for leading the fight in advancing Democratic values and lay out the stakes for 2024,” said Christina Amestoy, Pritzker’s campaign spokesperson, in a statement to WPR.

A large screen shows the words "Biden Harris" during a promotional video
A video is played before the virtual DNC at a drive-in event Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020, at the Milwaukee County Zoo. Angela Major/WPR

Pritzker’s visit to Milwaukee next week comes as Wisconsin is situated as one of the most important battlegrounds in the path to the White House. Democrats are also defending incumbent U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin in her race against Republican Eric Hovde.

Wikler said President Joe Biden will depend on a “blue wall” of victories in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. He argued Pritzker’s accomplishments in blue Illinois will speak to Democrats in purple Wisconsin.

“We have a message to Midwestern voters, which is that if you want a national government that respects Midwestern values, that cares about freedom and hard work and decency and empathy, you’ve got to elect President Biden and Vice President Harris,” Wikler said. “And you’ve got to say no to Trump and the MAGA extremists who are running right alongside him.”

In a post on social media, the state Republican Party said Wisconsin Democrats were “making Wisconsin more like Illinois,” with higher taxes, bigger government and “crippling inflation.”

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