MADISON, Wis. – Sen. Bernie Sanders and others from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party called on Democrats from key Midwestern states Wednesday to work together to not only defeat President Donald Trump, but to also forge ahead with a progressive agenda.
They spoke to activists from five Midwestern states during a virtual meeting coinciding with the third day of the Democratic National Convention. Trump narrowly won two of the states, Wisconsin and Michigan, and just barely lost a third, Minnesota. All three are central to this year's campaign of both Democratic nominee Joe Biden and Trump.
Democrats from South Dakota and North Dakota also participated on the call, which attracted around 250 viewers at any given time.
“Defeating Trump is not all that this campaign is about," said Sanders, who was speaking from his hometown of Burlington, Vermont. "We have got to lay out a vision for the American people today who are struggling and hurting in a way we have never seen for a very, very long time.”
Sanders' message to the Midwestern activists, on a call organized by Wisconsin Democrats, came after he delivered a similar message in a prime time speech Monday at the national convention.
“The day after the election, we’ve got to rally the American people to create an agenda that works for all and not just large corporations and the 1%," Sanders said. "Don’t let anybody fool you, our agenda, the progressive agenda, is the agenda of the American people.”
Democrats decided to award the national convention to Milwaukee in part to show a seriousness toward winning back Wisconsin and the Midwest, often referred to as a “blue wall.” Trump became the first Republican presidential candidate to carry Wisconsin since Ronald Reagan in 1984, but he did it by the narrowest of margins, less than 23,000 votes. Trump won neighboring Michigan by fewer than 11,000 votes and lost in Minnesota by just 45,000 votes.
The COVID-19 pandemic scuttled plans to put the spotlight on Milwaukee and Wisconsin as Democrats hoped, with the bulk of the convention moving to a virtual delivery. Biden is skipping coming to Milwaukee for his acceptance speech, something Trump and his surrogates have highlighted as they flood the state this week.
“I did hear the Democrats were supposed to have their national convention in Wisconsin, but they couldn’t make it," Vice President Mike Pence said on Wednesday during a visit to Tankcraft Corporation in Darien, Wisconsin. "That’s really nothing new. I heard on the way here that Joe Biden hasn’t been to Wisconsin in 659 days. ... Get used to seeing us, because President Donald Trump and I are going to be back to Wisconsin again and again and again to earn four more years in the White House.”
Trump held rallies in Wisconsin and Minnesota on Monday and is scheduled to travel to Pennsylvania, the state of Biden’s birth, on Thursday, ahead of the Democrat’s acceptance speech. The president's son Eric Trump was in Milwaukee on Tuesday, and Pence's visit was his fifth to Wisconsin this year.
Republicans have been quick to compare Biden not coming to Milwaukee to 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton not campaigning in Wisconsin during the general election. Democrats say the comparison is unfounded, pointing in part to higher television advertising spending by Biden so far in Wisconsin than Clinton at this stage.
The message Wednesday from liberal party leaders was that they must take the Midwest seriously and work together if they hope to defeat Trump.
“We can do this,” said Rep. Mark Pocan, who represents the liberal Madison area and is co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “We are Midwesterners. We are good, kind people, maybe passive aggressive at times, but goodhearted people who want better for our families and for our neighbors' families.”
Sanders and Pocan were joined by Reps. Ayanna Pressley, from Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib, of Michigan, along with Sens. Cory Booker, of New Jersey, and Michael Bennett, of Colorado. Democratic Party chairs from Michigan and Minnesota also spoke.
Tlaib, who was elected to Congress in 2018 representing parts of Detroit, said the Midwest would deliver the White House for Biden.
“And they better give us credit for it because I’m going to walk in there and I'm going to say, ‘Yeah, don’t ever dismiss the Midwest,'" she said.
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