OSHKOSH, Wis. — Democratic candidates for Wisconsin governor described themselves as fighters ready to take on Republican Gov. Scott Walker in speeches Friday at the state party convention, trying to distinguish themselves in a crowded field of 10 trying to knock off the two-term, better funded incumbent.
The convention gave the nominees — many of them not well known statewide — their biggest audience yet in the campaign. There were about 1,500 people at the meeting, where Democrats spoke optimistically of a "blue wave" that will help them not only defeat Walker but re-elect Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, make gains in the Republican-controlled Legislature and knock off some GOP incumbents in Congress.
Democrats argued for better funding of education, opposing the Foxconn deal that could send $4.5 billion in taxpayer incentives to the Taiwan company, improving the condition of roads, enacting gun control measures, raising the minimum wage, refinancing college loan debt, bolstering access to health care and emphasizing renewable energy.
"It's time to take back Wisconsin!" said Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, who at 73 is the oldest of the 10 candidates. He linked Walker with President Donald Trump, saying they've led an "unprecedented attack on families."
There are so many Democrats running for governor that convention organizers held each of them to a 5-minute speaking time limit and cut off the microphone once they hit the time limit. Milwaukee businessman Andy Gronik kept talking, without amplification, until the next candidate was introduced.
State Superintendent Tony Evers noted that he's the only candidate of the 10 who has won statewide — three times. Gronik, a political newcomer, said a different approach is needed given that Walker has defeated a "conventional" politician three times. He beat Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett twice and Madison businesswoman Mary Burke in 2014.
Political activist Mike McCabe fired up the crowd with his populist message, arguing for a "brand new kind of politics."
Matt Flynn, the former state party chairman, heard a smattering of boos as he took the stage. Women's March Wisconsin has called for him to drop out of the race because of his work as an attorney defending the Milwaukee Archdiocese in priest abuse cases more than a decade ago.
State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, of Alma, emphasized her opposition to the Foxconn deal, saying "our priorities are upside down."
Walker has touted the Foxconn deal, which would only send the taxpayer incentives to the company if it meets job and investment targets for its massive planned development in southeast Wisconsin.
Kelda Roys, 38, began with a story about her 3-year-old playing a game at home that Roys realized was an active shooter drill.
She advocated for passing "meaningful" gun safety laws, 12 weeks of universal paid family leave, guaranteeing early childhood education and making 2-year University of Wisconsin colleges free. She also called for ending infant mortality, mass incarceration, and voter suppression.
Evers was the most explicit in his dislike of Walker and his policies.
"I am goddamn sick of Scott Walker cutting our schools," Evers said, promising to win parts of the state where schools have approved referendums to raise property taxes to supplement aid from the state.
Evers, who was diagnosed with cancer but has been free of it for nine years, cast himself as a fighter.
"I beat cancer and I can beat Scott Walker," Evers said.
And state Rep. Dana Wachs, of Eau Claire, said "Wisconsin is better than Scott Walker."
Mahlon Mitchell, a Madison fire fighter and head of the state fire fighters union, argued for $15 an-hour minimum wage and policies to benefit everyone in the state. Mitchell, who is black, also said electing him would make history by making him Wisconsin's first African American governor.
Political newcomer Josh Pade, a corporate attorney from Kenosha, said a "fresh start and new vision" was needed for the state.
Wisconsin Republican Party spokesman Alec Zimmerman accused Democratic gubernatorial candidates of engaging in a "dangerous race to the left promoting policies that would stall the Wisconsin comeback." He said Republican policies have "fueled Wisconsin's comeback" while Democrats don't have an agenda that will help hard-working families.