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Bernie Sanders stumps for Democrats in Wisconsin as both sides make final get-out-the-vote push

Sanders' visit comes as of the candidates for governor and US Senate are crisscrossing Wisconsin

Bernie Sanders
In this Monday, April 4, 2016 file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a campaign event in Milwaukee, Wis. Paul Sancya/AP Photo

Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is among the national figures stumping for Wisconsin Democrats as candidates from both parties make their final push to voters ahead of Tuesday’s midterm elections.

Sanders, the former presidential candidate, scheduled stops in Eau Claire, La Crosse and Madison Friday before heading to Oshkosh Saturday. Each city is home to a University of Wisconsin campus.

The tour comes as Democrats and Republicans host a flurry of campaign stops in Wisconsin, a battleground state that’s as closely divided as they come. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers is trying to fend off a challenge from Republican businessman Tim Michels and Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson is fighting to keep his seat against a challenge from Democrat Mandela Barnes, Wisconsin’s lieutenant governor.

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During the last race for governor in 2018, Wisconsin saw record high voter turnout for a midterm election, with nearly 60 percent of the estimated voting age-population participating. The margin of victory in that election four years ago was razor-thin; Evers beat then-Republican Gov. Scott Walker by roughly 1 percentage point.

Polling suggests statewide races could once again be close this year. And, in the final days of campaigning, both sides are turning their focus to getting out the vote, said Republican strategist Mike Graul.

“There’s not a lot of persuading going on anymore,” Graul said. “I think most people made up their mind one way or another. And now the question is whether or not they’re going to vote.”

Graul said he believes Democrats in particular may have to counter low enthusiasm amid discontent about inflation and Joe Biden’s presidency.

While Sanders, an independent who describes himself as a democratic socialist, could be an alienating figure to some moderates, his presence in Wisconsin has the potential to motivate younger voters, said Anthony Chergosky, an assistant political science professor at the UW-La Crosse.

“Young voters are generally tough to mobilize, but that becomes especially the case when there’s not a presidential election on the ticket,” Chergosky said.

Barnes, who’s trying to make the leap from being Wisconsin’s lieutenant governor to representing the state in the U.S. Senate, had a packed schedule Friday with multiple stops in the Democratic strongholds of Madison and Milwaukee.

UW-Madison student Samantha Stidham was among the people packed into a Madison restaurant midday Friday to hear Barnes speak. And Stidham planned to join her roommates later that night to see Sanders at Madison’s Orpheum Theater.

Sidham, who describes herself as a “really big fan of Sanders,” says she’s worried about Tuesday’s election.

“Democrats need to get a win here,” she said. “Those big names get people out to events like this … It gets people excited about, you know, door knocking or canvassing or just going to vote.”

Candidates, surrogates crisscross Wisconsin as Election Day nears

Last weekend, former U.S. President Barack Obama said the fate of democracy itself is on the ballot when he campaigned for Democrats in Milwaukee.

And former Republican National Committee Chair Reince Preibus, a Wisconsin native, has been traveling the state helping the GOP make its case.

At a stop in Green Bay Friday morning, Preibus joined Michels and Johnson in painting Democratic candidates as extreme, accusing them of exacerbating inflation and failing to stop crime. Preibus referenced historic spending on Wisconsin’s upcoming midterms, saying that all that money is going to “influence 50,000 people in the middle.”

Those people in the middle, Preibus said, are “the people that we need to convince between now and Tuesday that we can’t allow a radical like Mandela Barnes to be sent to Washington DC.”

Also on Friday, Evers made his case at a rally in Superior, where he spoke to a crowd at a wellness center on UW-Superior’s campus.

The governor emphasized the importance of his veto pen as a check on the Republican-led Legislature and urged voters to stop a Republican supermajority from taking hold.

“I’ve had the opportunity to veto many bills that would have made it more difficult for people to vote, whether it was issues around people of color, people with physical disabilities,” Evers said.

“Good lord,” Evers continued. “Those are the things that I vetoed. Can you imagine what’s going to happen going forward if Tim Michels wins?”

Democratic strategist Joe Zepecki believes the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of a national right to abortion is energizing voters, and said he’s paying attention to whether the share of women in the electorate increases with more women registering and turning out to vote.

It’s no surprise, he said, that national figures have been heading to Wisconsin. That includes not only the recent visits from Obama and Sanders, but also stops earlier this fall by high-profile Republicans like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Zepecki said.

“It’s clear that Wisconsin is once again sort of ground zero for our politics nationally,” he said. “We know that Wisconsin is one of the most polarized states in the country. We were polarized before it was cool.”

Editor’s note: WPR’s Gaby Vinick, Joe Schulz and Danielle Kaeding contributed reporting to this story.