State Rep. Dianne Hesselbein, D-Middleton, wasn't surprised that Hillary Clinton mentioned Gov. Scott Walker so often during Thursday’s debate. In fact, she thinks it’s a smart strategy.
Asked what it will take for Democrats to win Wisconsin, Hesselbein said, "Talk about Scott Walker a lot more. Five years ago today he dropped the bomb with Act 10."
Wisconsin Dems generally praised Thursday night’s debate, while GOP Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch said Clinton and Bernie Sanders failed to deliver a winning message during their two-hour meeting.
Clinton made several Wisconsin-specific references during the debate. But state Dem Chair Martha Laning downplayed that Sanders did not.
"I think it's great that we're talking about the issues happening here in Wisconsin, but again, all of the issues that were talked about tonight are important to the people of Wisconsin,” she said.
Clinton’s campaign last year signed a joint fundraising agreement with the state party, and a WisPolitics.com check of FEC reports shows it pulled in $345,689 during the last three months of 2015.
Laning said the Sanders campaign has not reached out to create a similar agreement, nor was she aware of any paid staff from either the Clinton or Sanders campaigns.
But Sanders spokesman Jeff Weaver told reporters that the senator will "soon have a ground game" in Wisconsin.
"I think Sanders will do well here," Weaver said.
Asked why Sanders failed to mention Walker, Weaver said the senator "has spoken on Governor Walker on a number of occasions."
State Rep. Mandela Barnes of Milwaukee, who has not endorsed in the race, declined to declare a winner in the debate, but expressed confidence that either Sanders or Clinton will occupy the White House in 2017.
He said the candidates addressed issues that are relevant to Milwaukee, including a discussion of the black male incarceration rate and the death of Dontre Hamilton while in police custody. Barnes said he is encouraged by the “more nuanced approach” to criminal justice discussed by the candidates, an approach he said is lacking among Republicans.
While Walker was the target of criticism during the debate, Barnes said he wanted to hear Sanders and Clinton further discuss the impact of the governor’s policies.
“The governor’s failures are always at the top of the list as a member of the Legislature,” Barnes said.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett hugged Kleefisch, who was at the debate hall to present a GOP response, and joked that she must have come around to the Democratic side because she'd attended the debate.
Barrett, who has gone on record of supporting Hillary Clinton, called tonight's debate "very substantive."
"In contrast to what you've seen with the Republican debates, you had two adults that were talking about issues that affect Americans on a daily basis and you didn't have a circus atmosphere, you didn't have them attacking each other personally, and that's why I think the big winner here was democracy," said Barrett.
Kleefisch declared tonight's winner as "The Milwaukee Bucks -- because I didn't really hear anything on the debate stage that I thought was a winning argument."
"What you heard tonight is a 74-year-old socialist versus a Goldman Sachs speaker under investigation by the FBI,” she said. “I don't think the American people are prepared to take on what either one of those things means for the United States’ future, both domestic policy-wise and our stature in the world."
Walker responded via Twitter to one of Clinton’s lines that mentioned him. Kleefisch said she hadn’t seen his response.
"But I'll tell you my reaction," she said. "It tells me they are still scared of Scott Walker. You know it's the anniversary of Act 10 today."
-- By Samantha Nash and Kay Nolan