State News

DNC chair to UW-Madison students: ‘We win Wisconsin if we start working now’

Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee, spoke to UW-Madison students Friday.

Image By: Noah Habenstreit

Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump in the 2016 election was crushing to Democrats across the country, but for Wisconsinites, it was personal. Trump unexpectedly won the state, striking one of the pivotal blows to Clinton’s campaign.

Almost a year later, UW-Madison students packed into a small room in Memorial Union to hear Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez’s take on how to win the state back. There are a number of factors, he said, but none are more important than millennial involvement.

“We can do this, folks,” Perez told students. “But we can only do it if you’re engaged to the fullest.”

Perez was in town to visit his daughter, College Democrats of UW-Madison leaders said, but stopped by the Union Friday to offer words of wisdom to students. The College Democrats hosted the event, which began with a short speech from Perez but largely evolved into a question and answer session.

Throughout the event, Perez continually hit home the importance of engagement from students and people ages 18-29, who he said will be the largest voter demographic in 2020. But he also said 2020 isn’t currently the top priority for the DNC; despite the “five-alarm fire” in the White House, Perez stressed the need for organizing on local elections.

“We’ve redefined our mission — our mission used to be electing a president every four years. Now, we’re helping to elect people from the school board to the Senate,” Perez said.

In a “purple state” like Wisconsin, he said, it’s never too early to start working on 2018 races — U.S. senate, governor, state legislature and local elections.

“We win Wisconsin if we start working now,” Perez said. “This is Fightin’ Bob La Follette’s Wisconsin, this is not Scott Walker’s Wisconsin.”

While Perez largely remained positive throughout the event, he admitted that Democrats had done “a lot of things wrong” in the past. He pointed to the party’s failure to organize in non-election years as one example.

He also said that in states like Wisconsin, with large rural populations, Democrats must commit to campaigning in places where they’re not always viewed favorably.

“Step one: Show up,” he urged, citing Joe Biden’s “all politics is personal” mantra.

The party will largely count on millennials to put in the hours to elect Democrats around the country, Perez told the crowd. He implored students to start volunteering today.

“Get engaged in Virginia now, New Jersey now, Wisconsin now,” Perez said. “There is no such thing as an off year anymore.”

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