MILWAUKEE -- President Obama called on a crowd of more than 3,400 to get their friends and loved ones to the polls on Nov. 4 at a rare 2014 campaign stop dedicated to firing up the base to replace Republican Gov. Scott Walker with Democrat Mary Burke.
“When you step into that voting booth, you have a choice to make,” Obama said. “It boils down to a simple question: Who’s going to fight for you?”
Burke, a former commerce secretary and a member of the Madison School Board, has been locked in a neck-and-neck race against Walker, with the candidates essentially tied for the past six months. As things have stayed close, Burke has hammered Walker on his failure to create more jobs, his cuts to education budgets, his record on women’s rights, and his refusal to raise the state’s minimum wage.
And with the race essentially tied with both candidates polling at 47%, Obama urged the crowd to take advantage of the remaining three days of early voting. “Grab your friends, grab your coworkers, grab your lazy cousin who’s sitting at home, who never votes during the midterms, sitting at home watching reruns of old Packer games. Take all of them to cast their ballots.”
"We believe our country is stronger when women are equal participants in the economy."'
“We believe our country is stronger when women are equal participants in the economy,” Obama said, contrasting Burke to her opponent, adding, “I don't understand why you’d want to repeal a law to make sure women are being treated fairly on the job.” Walker, for his part, repealed a law in 2012 that made it easier for victims of wage discrimination to take their cases to court.
People started lining up outside North Division High School hours ahead of time, and winds picked up as the lines started snaking back in front of the school and down another city block. Students leaving for the day shouted from school buses at people as they arrived. “You tell Obama I said hey!” one teenage boy yelled at a cluster of people leaning on canes and walkers.
At one point, a young, female protester interrupted Obama's speech, and after the crowed shouted her down, Obama said she was there over the failure to pass immigration reform. Rather than interject at campaign events, he said, "she should be protesting the Republicans in Congress" who have stonewalled legislation.
The campaign stop in Milwaukee is part of a larger effort to boost turnout among the state’s Democratic base in a midterm election that is expected to be bad for Democrats. North Division High School is located in an African-American neighborhood, in a ward that he carried in 2012 with 99% of the vote. His visit caps off a series of campaign stops by other major Democratic figures, including Michelle Obama and former President Bill Clinton who campaigned for Burke in Milwaukee earlier this month.
The Wisconsin governor’s race is one of the closest in the country, and a victory for Burke would signal a popular rebuke of the confrontational approach that made Walker famous in 2011, when he effectively ended collective bargaining rights for public sector unions in the state. That move led to massive protests and a failed recall attempt, but after one term under Walker, Wisconsin is still lagging behind many states in the Midwest in job creation and economic growth.
Obama also highlighted recent campaign missteps by Walker, as when the Governor said last week that he felt the minimum wage serves “no purpose,” while Burke has vowed to work to raise it to $10.10. “Folks who are working hard every day cleaning out bedpans, cleaning out office buildings, making folks’ beds, taking care of some of our seniors,” Obama said, “they shouldn’t be raising their families in poverty.”
The crowd grew rowdier as speakers ran through a list of Walker’s achievements over the past four years, from the law that stripped public sector unions of their bargaining rights to his attempts to defunding Planned Parenthood in the state.
“We’ve had four years of Scott Walker, it’s been a bad relationship, but today is the showdown. Judgment day is Tuesday,” Rep. Gwen Moore, who graduated from North Division more than forty years ago, said. “Is we is or is we ain’t gonna vote?” asked Moore.
Felesia Martin, a Burke campaign volunteer who also worked to elect Obama in 2008 and 2012, was the first speaker to encourage the crowd to join the get out the vote effort. Walker signed legislation in March that cut early voting hours, but the state General Accounting Board reported Tuesday that early voting is already outpacing 2010, when Walker first won election.
“We’re encouraging you to go out and vote early so you can come back and help us get other folks out to vote on November the 4th,” Martin said. “We have to fight for our families, we have to fight for our children.”
Before arriving at the high school, Obama attended a $16,000-per-plate fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee at a restaurant downtown, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.