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Laning Wins Re-election As Chair Of Wisconsin’s Democratic Party

Chair Promises Democratic Victories Next Year After Devastating Losses In 2016


Wisconsin Democrats have re-elected Martha Laning as the chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, giving her a shot at redemption after overseeing the party’s dramatic losses up and down the ballot in 2016.

Laning defeated three challengers at the Democratic Party’s annual state convention Saturday in Middleton.

A party spokesman said Laning received the votes of 722 delegates, while Glendale Mayor Bryan Kennedy received 569 votes. Madison attorney Eric Finch finished a distant third with 50 votes, and Democratic activist Joe Donovan of Waukesha received 48 votes.

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Laning promised Democratic wins in 2018 after a 2016 election cycle that couldn’t have gone worse for the party as Republicans grew their majorities in the state Legislature, won Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate race and captured the state’s 10 electoral votes for the first time in more than three decades.

“That last election was devastating to all of us,” Laning told delegates. “I wish I had been able to get the resources out there sooner because if we had the party that we are building this year … we would have won.”

While the party’s disastrous 2016 election results earned Laning her share of critics among Democrats, she also had enthusiastic support from several Democratic leaders, including endorsements from U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore of Milwaukee and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout of Alma.

Laning said the state party had already begun hiring field organizing staff in 2017.

“We need to be sure that every community knows what the Democrats want to do to turn things around,” Laning said.

Before voting took place Saturday, Kennedy, the runner up, told Democrats he ran because the party hadn’t done enough to engage the grassroots outside of Dane and Milwaukee counties.

“We’ve got to hold onto our strongholds in south central and southeastern Wisconsin,” Kennedy said. “But our path back to victory comes by getting the other 70 counties.”

Madison attorney Kevin Finch said Democrats needed to talk more about who they support instead of spending so much energy opposing Republicans like Gov. Scott Walker.

“Democrats, I ask you to stop giving him free publicity,” Finch said. “Tear off your ‘Recall Walker’ bumper stickers with his name and put on a bumper sticker for who you want to be our next governor.”

Donovan, who finished just behind Finch in Saturday’s voting, called himself an “FDR Democrat” who believes in an economic system that rewards work and a progressive tax system that funds the government.

“We’ve strayed a little bit from that as our party,” Donovan said.

In addition to Laning, Democrats also re-elected state Rep. David Bowen of Milwaukee as their party vice chair.

Under Democratic Party rules, both the chair and vice chair are “superdelegates,” meaning they can support whomever they choose in the Democratic National Committee’s presidential nominating process.

Republicans issued a statement immediately after Laning’s re-election was announced, saying Democrats were “doubling down” on Laning’s record.

“Instead of changing direction, they’re banking on failed leadership heading into 2018,” said Alec Zimmerman, spokesman for the Republican Party of Wisconsin.

Republicans kept a close watch on the weekend’s convention, with some Democratic delegates saying GOP flyers attacking both Laning and Kennedy were slipped under their hotel doors.

Democrats have several races to plan for in 2018, including contests for U.S. Senate, governor, state attorney general, Congress, the state Legislature and the state Supreme Court.

Complicating Laning’s job is the fact that while many Democrats have expressed an interest in running for governor, they’ve yet to formally declare for the race.

“The governor’s race is over 500 days away,” Laning said. “I know that we’re going to have a great candidate.”