The political parties are doing everything they can to court voters in swing-state Wisconsin, and this includes a GOP first: a campaign office in Milwaukee.
The Wisconsin Republican Party ventured into Democratic territory Thursday, opening its first-ever campaign office near Milwaukee’s central city. About 75 people attended the grand opening in the historic Bronzeville neighborhood.
President Trump narrowly won Wisconsin in 2016, and the state is viewed as a battleground this year. Republican organizers say they’re hoping to woo black voters.
Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson spoke first. He’s been involved with the Joseph Project, a program which connects African Americans from Milwaukee with jobs. The goal of the new office is to promote conservative ideas, he says.
“We’re showing up in a very genuine and sincere effort asking people to just listen to us, just consider maybe a different approach. Because we really care about you, we want to see you succeed. We believe we and our party has the formula for success. And that’s why we’re here,” says Johnson.
Next up was Gerard Randall, chair of the African American Council of the Wisconsin Republican Party. He says GOP and African American history are significantly intertwined.
“The nation's first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, emancipated African American slaves in 1863. It was the Republican Party that successfully promulgated the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the United States Constitution,” says Randall.
We spoke with Andrew Hitt, chair of the Wisconsin Republican Party, after the speeches. He heralded President Trump and the GOP’s modern-day accomplishments, like criminal justice reform and opportunity zones: tax breaks for investments in economically-disadvantaged areas.
“The president passed the most historic piece of legislation in the First Step Act. And that's something that the Republican Party, it hasn't been a focus before. So, there's a lot of things that we can focus on together,” says Hitt.
The city, including its African American community, has been a consistent Democratic stronghold. But in Wisconsin, black turnout was down about 20% in 2016 versus 2012, according to a study by the Center for American Progress, a liberal advocacy group.
Angela Lang leads BLOC, Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, in Milwaukee.
She says the GOP office is an attempt to try and make up for lost ground, after decades of not being able to engage the black community.
“And it's disingenuous because if they actually wanted the support of black voters, they will put forth policies to make sure that our communities are being invested in and uplifted, and they actually wouldn't be behind the voter suppression. It seems very ironic to me that they're trying to court the black vote while simultaneously putting forth voter suppression efforts,” says Lang.
Under former Gov. Scott Walker, Wisconsin passed strict voter ID laws, restricted early voting hours and saw partisan redistricting.
But as to the Milwaukee GOP office opening, Democratic Party of Wisconsin spokesperson Phil Shulman said in a statement that, “[Milwaukee voters] aren’t going to be fooled by the antics of Trump or Wisconsin Republicans after years of their bullying and disregard for this community.”
He says, “on top of building his candidacy around the false conspiracy theory that our first black president wasn't a U.S. citizen and scapegoating people of color at every turn, Donald Trump has broken his promises to lower prescription drug and health care costs, raise wages, or pass meaningful common sense gun safety reform.”
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