MILWAUKEE — Gov. Scott Walker and other Republicans struck a cautionary tone at their state party convention Saturday, warning that GOP policies enacted the past eight years could be quickly undone with Democratic wins, a dour message for an annual meeting that traditionally serves as a pep rally heading into the campaign season.
Wary Republicans repeatedly sounded the alarm that Democrats were more enthusiastic headed into the fall elections, where Walker is running for a third term, Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel is seeking re-election and Republicans are trying to knock off Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin.
"We need to wake up," Walker said, speaking to delegates from the convention floor rather than on stage at the podium. "Let me repeat that. We need to wake up. This election is going to be tougher than any we've faced so far — and the consequences are greater than ever."
Tom Schreibel, Wisconsin's Republican National Committee member, was one of several others who echoed Walkers concerns.
"We have a tough road ahead," Schreibel said. "We do."
Walker's speech was the latest in a string of warnings he's made to Republicans in recent months that a "blue wave" could be coming to Wisconsin. Democrats are emboldened by a special election win for a state Senate vacancy in January and an April victory by the Democratic-backed candidate for Wisconsin Supreme Court.
"If a Democrat is elected as governor, we will also likely lose the majorities in the state Legislature," Walker told hundreds of delegates. "If that happens, all of the positive reforms we worked so hard for could be gone."
Walker said Republican initiatives that would be undone with Democratic wins include the Foxconn display-screen manufacturing project that could bring 13,000 jobs to the state in exchange for $4.5 billion in taxpayer incentives; a University of Wisconsin tuition freeze; photo identification requirements for voting; abortion limitations; and collective bargaining restrictions enacted through the Act 10 law.
Schimel said if Democrats win, Wisconsin will look more like San Francisco and Illinois — a state that was a frequent target for Republicans on Saturday who blamed its financial woes on Democrats.
"If there's a blue wave coming, our conservative reforms will be among the first thing to go," Schimel said. "Up and down the ballot, there are big challenges ahead of us."
Republican legislative leaders, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, both expressed confidence that voters are happy with the GOP record and their majorities will be retained.
"That blue wave is about to crash into a red wall," Fitzgerald said. "My Senate team is ready to bring the fight."
And Vos said there would be "no waves crashing in Wisconsin" once voters learn that Democrats support undoing Act 10, increasing the size of government and funding Planned Parenthood.
Walker and other speakers praised President Donald Trump, who won Wisconsin by less than a percentage point in 2016.
Walker said Trump "and his great team are moving America forward," while also voicing frustration with the U.S. Senate not following the House's lead in passing a repeal of the federal health care law passed under then-President Barack Obama.
Wisconsin Democratic Party chairwoman Martha Laning said Republicans are "terrified."
"Democrats in Wisconsin are energized like never before," Laning said in a statement. "We're mobilizing to take back our state, to lead with our Wisconsin values and create a better future for Wisconsin."