Monday, June 06, 2005

Oshkosh, B'Gosh Could Be Good for Dems

It's been a long time since state Democratic Party convention-goers gathered to hear their incumbent governor speak.

Gov. Jim Doyle, revving up his re-election bid, is the first Dem guv since Tony Earl, who lost to Tommy Thompson in 1986. And he's aiming to be the first Wisconsin Dem guv to win re-election since Pat Lucey in 1974.

While there is griping on the left about Doyle wiping out local minimum wages, being too pro-business and supposedly lacking environmental passion, Dems on the whole have reason to be hopeful as they get ready for the '06 election year, party leaders say.

As hundreds of delegates and alternates prepare to descend on Oshkosh a week from today, they can feel good about holding seven of the eight statewide elected offices (state Treasurer Jack Voight is the only statewide elected Republican). They also know they've got a deficit to make up in the Republican-dominated Legislature and a couple of big fights ahead in '06 to hold the East Wing offices of the guv and AG.

"The focus has changed", says DPW Chair Linda Honold. "Because we have a Democratic governor, instead of focusing on how to win the governorship, we are now focusing on making sure we keep it."

Though intra-party rifts have developed between far-left factions of the party and pro-business Doyle loyalists, it is likely that at this venue the vast majority of attendees will stand behind their guv and vow to fight for every inch of turf against oncoming GOP opponents U.S. Rep. Mark Green and Milwaukee Co. Exec. Scott Walker.

Honold indicated that one of the main goals of this convention is to "come out as a unified party ready for 2006." Honold, by the way, is seeking to stay involved as the No. 2 party officer, running with favored chair candidate Joe Wineke. Wineke is running against Jeff Rammelt.

Though the governorship remains a top priority, fighting to regain seats in the Legislature also is critical to the Dems, according to DPW Executive Director Kim Warkentin. "Coming off of the successful 2004 election, the party made a lot of inroads in terms of building the party and invigorating new members," she says. The executive director stresses that the party needs to keep those new members engaged and instruct them to re-direct their efforts to help win back the seats in both the Assembly and Senate.

"Fundraising is always a focus," adds Warkentin, who maintains that though Democrats will never be able to compete at the same level as Republicans, the party can tap new members and virgin donors through net-roots fundraising.

Warkentin went on to plug the recently re-vamped and fundraising friendly DPW site, www.wisdems.org.