Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders tonight took a relatively diplomatic tone with each other in back-to-back speeches at a state Democratic Party event in Milwaukee while repeatedly slamming Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
Clinton also railed against Justice Rebecca Bradley for her anti-gay writings while a student at Marquette University and for writings that equated birth control with murder.
To loud applause, Clinton told attendees at the Founders Day Gala there is “no place on any Supreme Court or any court in this country” for what she said was Bradley’s “decadeslong track record of dangerous rhetoric against women, survivors of sexual assault and the LGBT community.”
“So tonight,” Clinton added, “I’m adding my voice to the chorus across Wisconsin saying no to discrimination, no to hate speech and no to Bradley."
Sanders didn’t mention the state Supreme Court race, but focused during several points in his speech on Walker, telling the crowd if they wonder what type of president he will be, to “think of all the things Gov. Walker has done and I will do exactly the opposite.”
Sanders slammed Walker and other Republican governors, saying they are working to make it harder for people to vote.
“If you don’t have the guts to participate in free and open elections, get out of politics and get another job,” Sanders said.
Clinton, too, took jabs at Walker. During a portion of her speech on higher education, she said she has admired Wisconsin for it progressive tradition and that she found inspiration in the Wisconsin Idea.
“It is terrible to see the damage Gov. Walker and his allies in the Legislature have done in just five years,” Clinton said, adding state Republicans cut hundreds of millions of dollars from higher education, reduced financial aid and blocked a proposal to let people refinance student loan debt.
She promised that as president she would help Wisconsin Democrats take back the governorship and Legislature.
“I am a proud Democrat, and I support Democrats up and down the ticket,” Clinton said.
A state Dem party spokesman estimated attendance at the event at about 1,400, not including staff and volunteers. Party Chair Martha Laning said the gala raised about $250,000.
In addition to Clinton and Sanders, other speakers at the event included U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, Minnesota U.S. Sen. Al Franken, Ohio U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and U.S. Senate candidate Russ Feingold.
Franken, a Clinton supporter who gained notoriety as a comedian before being elected to the Senate, delivered a humor-laced speech that knocked Trump and Walker and encouraged Dems to join to support the eventual nominee.
He told the crowd to “work the phones until your ears get sweaty and gross,” “pound the pavement until you get blisters on your feet” and “beg your neighbors until they start hiding when they see you coming down the street.”
He quipped, “Many of you have jobs. Many of you have families. Ignore them.”
Kaptur highlighted Wisconsin’s role in the nominating process.
“This year,” she said, “your state is in the national headlines again and will be a vital force in helping to move America’s political debate as we as a Democratic Party nominate the next president of the United States.”
She said Clinton and Sanders make each other better as candidates.
“The shaping of the debate for our country is happening in our party, not the other party,” Kaptur said, adding the GOP candidates “are embarrassing America in front of the entire world.”
Sanders largely delivered his standard stump speech, hitting on themes of wealth inequality, campaign finance, voting rights, universal health care, women’s health care, gay rights and trade.
Clinton touched on similar themes, but also addressed national security and included more Wisconsin-based references.
Sanders told attendees he’s best positioned to beat Donald Trump in fall, saying that polling shows he beats Trump by larger margins than Clinton and that he has generated more enthusiasm with young voters.
He also noted his campaign has been fueled by small donations and that he does not have a super PAC. He said Dems need to tell drug companies, the fossil fuel industry and Wall Street, “Sorry, we are not on your side. We don’t want your money.”
Clinton also took a couple jabs at Sanders.
She noted that at this point, she has won a million more votes than Trump and 2.5 million more than Sanders. That remark drew several in the crowd to shout, “We won’t vote.”
She also criticized Sanders’ plan to provide free college tuition, saying it would rely on Walker and the Legislature to provide $300 million upfront, which she pointed out was the amount Walker originally proposed cutting from the UW System.
“If your free college plan depends on Republican governors like Gov. Walker, that’s going to take some major change of heart,” Clinton said. “I do believe in deathbed conversions. Maybe it will come to pass, but I'm not counting on that.
“I want you to get debt-free tuition regardless of what your Republican governor has to say about it.”
-- By David Wise
Audience members WisPolitics.com talked to largely praised both candidates’ speeches and said they enjoyed the chance to hear from both of them.
Brennan Balestrieri, A Democratic campaign adviser, said Clinton made a strong case for why Wisconsinites should support her.
“She is brilliant at speeches and knows how to hit issues that are very important to Wisconsinites specifically,” he said. “Bernie always has a really great critique of the system and has a lot of passion. I think that Hillary might have edged him out today, though.”
But Balestrieri said it’s still hard for him to choose who to vote for at this point.
“It’s hard for me to decide,” he said. “I love Hillary, but I might be leaning Bernie.”
Lisette Aldrich, a Sanders supporter, said both candidates did a good job of laying out what needs to change in Wisconsin and the country.
She said she like Sanders’ focus on education, wage disparity, raising the minimum wage and health care.
Despite backing Sanders, she said she is also a fan of Clinton and would support her if she won the nomination.
Clinton supporter David Greendeer, a district 2 legislator in the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin, said Clinton’s discussion of her plan for higher education reform stood out to him.
He also expressed appreciation for both candidates’ messages of unity.
“The message we are seeing from the Republicans is dividing the United States, dividing the people, and it’s alarming,” Greendeer said. “So regardless of the messages that they are both saying, all I wanted to hear today was some message of unification. That’s what I heard.”
Milwaukee attorney Aaron Birnbaum said although Clinton is likely to get the nomination, he is leaning toward voting for Sanders because he wants to help Wisconsin represent the progressive side of the Democratic Party..
“I appreciate Bernie because he represents some of the ideals I hold true and some of the more progressive ideals that I think a lot of Wisconsin residents also hold true as well,’ he said.
He said the issues Sanders raises has shaped Clinton’s campaign, leading her to address those issues, as well. Should Clinton win the nomination, Birnbaum said he would support her and described her as the most highly qualified of all of the candidates,
Roni Kramer, a letter carrier from Waukesha, declined to say who she was voting for but that the speeches from both candidates resonated with her.
“If my backup plan turns out to be the nominee, I will have no qualms backing my backup plan,” she said.
Kramer said this was her first time attending such an event and that she was excited to get to personally meet both Sanders and Clinton after their speeches.
“Something like this really puts the fire under me,” she said. “And I’ve got the fire.”