MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker is accusing Democrats of being driven by "anger and hatred," a line of attack the two-term incumbent began emphasizing last week that his opponents say more accurately reflects the tactics of President Donald Trump.
Walker, who is up for a third term in November, made the charge against Democrats on Twitter the night a liberal-backed candidate for Wisconsin Supreme Court trounced her conservative opponent. Walker has repeated it many times in the week since, as he also sounds an alarm about Wisconsin being hit by a "blue wave" in November.
"Their rhetoric is increasingly not just liberal, but filled with hatred and anger towards me, towards the president, towards Republicans in general," Walker said on the "Fox and Friends" show broadcast nationwide Monday.
Democrats said the new line of attack is desperate.
"For all his boasting about being unintimidated, it is clear Scott Walker is panicked, and he should be," said Mahlon Mitchell, one of more than a dozen Democratic gubernatorial candidates.
Walker said Democrats running against him were once "mild-mannered, low-key people" but "to win that primary they're going to have to show that they can match the rhetoric of hate and anger."
When asked for specific examples of what Walker was referring to, the Wisconsin Republican Party pointed to a January story in the Hudson Star-Observer newspaper in River Falls, Wisconsin, where Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers called Walker an "idiot" for rejecting federal Medicaid matching funds.
The state GOP also mentioned a radio interview where challenger Matt Flynn called Walker "too stupid to be governor." The party also produced a sampling of profane comments posted on Twitter in reaction to Walker that came from random people, not Democratic candidates for office.
Walker has long been the subject of vitriol from some political opponents after he effectively ended collective bargaining for public workers shortly after taking office in 2011. That anger fueled the ultimately failed attempt to recall him in 2012.
But Democrats running against Walker this year reject the claim they're fueled by hate and anger, and say Walker's accusation ignores Trump's behavior.
"Hate and anger — he must be reading the president's 3 a.m. tweets!" said Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andy Gronik.
Another Democratic gubernatorial candidate — state Rep. Dana Wachs, of Eau Claire — called Walker's claims "ridiculous and disingenuous." Wachs said Walker and Republicans "accuse Democrats of being hateful while practicing the politics of hate — it's classic smoke and mirrors."
Trump repeatedly demeaned Walker when they were both running for president in 2015, saying that "Wisconsin is doing terribly" and is in "turmoil" under Walker's leadership. They publicly reconciled after Walker dropped out of the race and endorsed Trump.
The president is known for giving his adversaries demeaning nicknames like "Crazy Joe Biden," posting angry messages on Twitter and bullying and mocking his opponents — including a disabled reporter.
Flynn said instead of focusing his criticism on Democrats, Walker should ask Trump to clean up his act.
Walker is urging Republicans to spread an optimistic and positive message, something Democrats say their own candidates and party are already doing.
"We reject the politics of anger, hatred, and division that have turned neighbor against neighbor over the past eight years," said candidate Kelda Roys.
Mike McCabe, a longtime political activist, said his campaign isn't even focused on criticizing Walker.
"I challenge anyone to find anger and hate in what I say as I'm traveling the state or in any of our campaign videos," McCabe said. "We have to focus on what we love, not what we hate. We have to focus on what we're for, not what we're against. I say that everywhere I go."