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Wisconsin Democrats rally party faithful with an eye on new voting maps in 2024

Leaders call for support for 2024 reelections of President Joe Biden, US Sen. Tammy Baldwin

Sen. Tammy Baldwin speaks in front of a U.S. flag background. Attendees can be seen in the foreground.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin speaks Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022, during a campaign event before the midterm elections at North Division High School in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Democrats at their state convention Saturday geared up for U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s 2024 reelection campaign, and speakers promised big changes to Wisconsin’s political landscape.

The convention, held in Green Bay, looked ahead more than a year to feature Baldwin’s race and highlight the key role Wisconsin is expected to play in the reelection campaign of Democratic President Joe Biden. Gov. Tony Evers spoke, boasting that after his own reelection in November, some people call him “two-term Tony.” And Baldwin spoke about Democrats’ work passing a landmark bill to lower the cost of prescription drugs to seniors and a bipartisan bill she spearheaded that codified gay marriage into law.

Democrats are flush from the 11-point state Supreme Court victory by Judge Janet Protasiewicz in April, and speaker after speaker talked about major policy changes that could follow from that win. The liberal candidate in the nominally nonpartisan race will be sworn in on Aug. 1, which will flip the court’s ideological balance for the first time in 15 years. Protasiewicz has signaled she may vote to overturn Wisconsin’s ban on virtually all abortions and would be sympathetic to claims that the state’s voting maps, which favor Republicans, are unconstitutional.

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That means congressional and state legislative candidates could face new voting maps by next fall. One convention speaker, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, said new maps could make Wisconsin’s 1st and 3rd Congressional Districts more competitive for Democrats, and that GOP Reps. Derrick Van Orden and Bryan Steil, respectively, should be “shaking in their boots.”

State Rep. Kalan Haywood, D-Milwaukee, said it’s been “painful to watch what my Republican colleagues are doing to our democracy.”

But “a new future is on the horizon,” Haywood said. “We will have the opportunity to challenge Wisconsin’s gerrymandered maps, which we wholeheartedly believe are unconstitutional.”

Wisconsin Democratic Party chair Ben Wikler also called attention to the state Supreme Court’s importance to the outcome of the 2024 election. The court heard former President Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn Wisconsin’s election in 2020.

“Because we have a pro-democracy state Supreme Court, we know that if we win the presidential election in 2024, it will stay won,” Wikler said. “So all we have to do is win.”

Baldwin received what political observers saw as good news on Friday when U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Green Bay, announced he would not run for Senate. Some Republicans had seen him as the strongest potential challenger for her.

Evers said Democrats should stay focused on the race.

“We already know Republicans are going to do everything they can to defeat Tammy,” he said. “Folks, we’re not going to let that happen, because we know how much Tammy does for our state, and we need her fighting for us in Washington.”

In her speech, Baldwin highlighted the prescription drug provisions in 2022’s Inflation Reduction Act.

“Last year, we took on Big Pharma, and for the first time in a long, long time, we actually won,” Baldwin said. “We passed a bill to help lower the cost of prescription drugs, and after years of fighting we gave Medicare the power to negotiate lower prescription drug prices and we capped out-of-pocket costs for nearly 46 million seniors across the country.”

One reason for Protasiewicz’s landslide victory was voters’ anger at the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 decision to overturn the federal right to abortion, which put Wisconsin’s 19th-century ban back into effect. Baldwin promised to defend abortion rights.

“No politician, no government official, no judge should stand in the way of you making your own health care decisions, and I will fight to restore these rights every single day,” she said.

On a call Friday ahead of the Democrats’ convention, Republican Party chair Brian Schimming said the gathering would be a “desperate attempt to spin Joe Biden’s unpopular record.”

“Wisconsin households have seen a 40-year-high inflation rate, wages decline, steep rent increases, record-high gas and energy prices, a supply chain crisis, a border in chaos, skyrocketing violent crime and declining test scores,” Schimming said. “That’s an unpopular pitch, in my mind, to Wisconsin voters that they have to make this weekend.”

By definition, state party conventions are aimed at the party faithful, seeking to rally support from volunteers and donors at the grassroots level. Many of those who spoke Saturday focused on the organizing work ahead for Democrats in the next year-and-a-half. The party also elected its officers, welcomed guest speaker U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and honored one-time congressional candidate and Clinton administration official Ada Deer with a lifetime achievement award.

Republicans will hold their state convention June 16 through June 18.