MILWAUKEE — Former President Barack Obama visited Milwaukee on Saturday to rally for Democratic candidates ahead of Wisconsin’s Nov. 8 midterm elections.
Obama emphasized the importance of voting in Wisconsin’s notoriously close elections during his nearly hour-long speech to an energetic crowd of thousands packed into the North Division High School gymnasium.
“You get to make a difference. Your vote will make a difference,” Obama said. “That's why Republicans are working so hard to stop you.”
The former president’s visit came just 10 days before the midterm elections, where Gov. Tony Evers is seeking re-election against Republican challenger Tim Michels and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes hopes to upset incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson.
Obama campaigned at North Division High School twice before in 2014 and 2018 to support Democratic candidates, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
His appearance Saturday alongside Evers, Barnes, Attorney General Josh Kaul and other party leaders is part of Democrats’ last-minute effort to reclaim ground lost to Republicans nationwide in the past few weeks.
In Wisconsin’s Senate race, Johnson has led Barnes by three or four percentage points since mid-October and even notched a six-point lead against Barnes in the latest Marquette Law School poll from mid-October.
Meanwhile, Evers and Michels are locked in a dead heat for the governor’s office, according to polling averages.
Obama called Evers “tough” and praised the Democratic governor for vetoing Republican bills on guns, education and abortion.
“He’s single-handedly keeping Republicans from driving the car off the road. He might be democracy's best hope in Wisconsin,” Obama said.
The former president warned the crowd that a Republican victory in November could jeopardize election security in Wisconsin.
“Democrats still abide by the basic norms and rules of how the democracy is supposed to work,” Obama told the Milwaukee crowd. “The vast majority of Republicans… they’re not even pretending that the rules apply anymore.”
He also called the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in June a “wake-up call” and said both Republicans and the Supreme Court could strip same-sex marriage and contraceptive access rights if left unchecked.
“If Republicans take back the House and the Senate, we could be one presidential election away from a nationwide ban on access to abortion,” Obama said.
Roe’s overturn reinstated an 1849 abortion ban in Wisconsin that makes exceptions for the life of the mother but not in cases of rape and incest — an issue Democratic candidates have hammered this election cycle.
“[Tim Michels] said the 1849 ban was an exact mirror of his position,” Evers told the crowd, referencing a Michels interview with WISN from June. “We cannot afford a governor who believes in a no-exception abortion ban.”
Michels changed his position to support rape and incest exceptions to Wisconsin’s abortion ban during a September radio interview. He most recently told University of Wisconsin-Madison students Tuesday that he “just disagrees with the system of abortion.”
A Marquette Law School poll from earlier this month found 60% of registered Wisconsin voters oppose the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. The poll also found 83% of voters believe abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest.
However, inflation remains the most important issue among Wisconsinites, with 68% of voters saying they were “very concerned” about the issue in the same poll.
Obama and other speakers reminded the crowd of Democratic accomplishments on student loan debt forgiveness and COVID stimulus checks.
He compared Democrats’ proposals to Republican inaction on a federal bill to limit gas price gouging.
“They’re not interested in solving problems”, Obama said. “They’re interested in making you angry and then finding someone to blame.”
Though the former president spoke on a number of what he called “dark” topics, he ended his speech with optimism.
“I believe we have more in common than our politics and our politicians suggest. Even when times are tough, I believe what unites us can be stronger than what divides us,” Obama told the crowd.
“There have always been certain values that bind us together as citizens no matter who we are or where we come from or what we look like or who we love.”
Tyler Katzenberger is the managing editor at The Daily Cardinal. As a former state news editor, he covered numerous protests and wrote state politics, healthcare, business and in-depth stories. Follow him on Twitter at @TylerKatzen.