MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Democrats on Thursday announced a joint effort with national party leaders they are calling the largest midterm coordinated campaign in state history, with the goal of reelecting Gov. Tony Evers and defeating Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson.
The effort dubbed Forward for Wisconsin is a partnership that includes the state and national Democratic parties, Evers' campaign and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Democrats promised to target rural parts of the state, which have been trending toward Republicans in recent elections.
The effort will also target communities of color, college students and tribal members. All of those voters traditionally side with Democrats, but turning them out in a midterm election will be particularly important for Democrats in the nearly evenly divided state.
“Sounds like what we’ve been doing for years,” Wisconsin Republican Party spokeswoman Anna Kelly tweeted. “Better late than never I guess?”
President Joe Biden won Wisconsin by less than 21,000 votes in 2020, nearly the same margin that Donald Trump won it by in 2016. Evers won in 2018 by just over 29,000 votes. But history is not on Evers' side. The candidate of the president’s party has lost the last eight races for Wisconsin governor.
Four Republicans are running in the Aug. 9 primary to take on Evers. They are former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, construction company co-owner Tim Michels, business consultant Kevin Nicholson and state Rep. Timothy Ramthun.
There's also large field of Democratic candidates seeking to take on Johnson. The top candidates are Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry, state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson and Millennial Action Project founder Steven Olikara.
Both sides in each of those races are already dumping millions into television ads. Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Paul Farrow said Thursday at a WisPolitics.com event that he expected both sides to spend a combined $700 million on all the races this year, which would be a state record.
“It's going to be incredible,” Farrow said.
Ben Wikler, chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, said the $700 million estimate is not "outside the realm of possibility.”
Both the Senate and governor's races are high priorities for Republicans and Democrats nationally. Johnson's race could determine which party controls the Senate. And if Evers loses, Republicans will be able to enact whatever laws they want given the large GOP majority in the state Legislature.
Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul is also up for reelection, as is longtime Secretary of State Doug La Follette. Republicans running to take him on want to transfer election duties to that office and away from a bipartisan commission, increasing the stakes in what is normally a sleepy race because the office currently has almost no powers or responsibilities.