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Sanders and Clinton Compete To Be the Most Anti-Scott Walker Ahead of Wisconsin Primary

Sanders slams Walker's record on unions and voting rights, while Clinton pledges to help down-ballot Democrats get rid of the Republican governor in 2018.
Photo by Eric Gay/AP

Bernie Sanders is leading Hillary Clinton by a hair in Wisconsin ahead of the state's presidential primary on Tuesday, where each has sought to position themselves as the strongest opponent of the state's conservative Governor Scott Walker.

In recent days, both candidates have campaigned heavily in the Badger State, which has consistently voted for Democrats in presidential elections since 1988, but is currently under Republican control. The GOP regained control of both state houses in 2011, and elected Walker, a union-busting governor who also ran for president this cycle, in 2010, a non-presidential election year.


On Saturday night, both Clinton and Sanders separately took turns bashing Walker at the elite Democratic Party's Founders Day Dinner in downtown Milwaukee.

Sanders, who spoke before Clinton, promised the crowd that he would be the antithesis of the Wisconsin governor, telling the audience to "think about all of the things Gov. Walker does, and I will do exactly the opposite."

He also accused Walker and other Republican governors of attempting to disenfranchise voters by implementing a strict new voter ID law and cutting early voting days. The voter ID law will take effect for the first time on Tuesday and is expected to affect 300,000 registered voters, particularly the elderly and college students, whose identification has expired or is out-of-state.

"I have contempt, absolute contempt, for those Republican governors who do not have the guts to support free, open, and fair elections," Sanders said. "If you don't have to guts to participate in a free and fair election, get out of politics and get another job."

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Clinton, too, went after Walker in her own speech, decrying the governor's tenure in Wisconsin since 2011.

"It is terrible to see the damage Gov. Walker and his allies in the legislature have done in just five years," Clinton said.

In her speech, the former secretary of state promised to help down-ballot Democrats regain control of the governor's mansion at the next gubernatorial election. Wisconsin does not subject governors to term limits and Walker will be eligible to run again in just two years. "In 2018, we will defeat Scott Walker," she said.


Clinton also laid into the Walker's appointed state Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley, slamming her opinions regarding women's reproductive rights, sexual assault survivors and members of the LGBT community. Bradley is also seeking re-election to the court on Tuesday.

In recent days, Bradley's opponents have highlighted a series of columns she authored 24 years ago in the student paper at Marquette University. In some of those articles, she referred to AIDS patients as "degenerate drug addicts" and gay people as "queers." Bradley also called then-President Bill Clinton a "murderer" in the columns over his support for abortion rights. Bradley apologized for the columns in a statement last month, citing her youth and anger with Clinton's victory in the 1992 presidential race.

"There is no place on any Supreme Court or any court in this country, no place at all for Rebecca Bradley's decades-long track record of dangerous rhetoric against women, survivors of sexual assault and the LGBT community," Clinton said Saturday night.

Clinton also stumped at a rally at the Service Employees International Union in Milwaukee on Saturday. SEIU Health Care-Wisconsin president Dian Palmer said that some 2,300 had gone out to canvass for Clinton earlier that day.

"It's all because we believe that you are going to do the right thing for working families, the right thing for poor people, the right thing for African-Americans and Latinos," Palmer told Clinton.


Related: Hillary Clinton Wants You to Remember How New York She Is Ahead of State's Primary

Walker is well known for his anti-union stance. Soon after taking the governor's office in 2011, he promoted legislation that sought to cut most collective bargaining rights for public workers. The controversial bill prompted mass protests that threw him into the national political spotlight. Angered Democrats forced a recall election in the aftermath of the legislation, but Walker won. He is the only US governor to ever do so.

Walker is also known for his anti-abortion views. Last July, just days before announcing his failed campaign for the presidency, Walker said he planned to sign a bill banning all non-emergency abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions, including for rape or incest survivors.

Although he was an early favorite in the 2016 Republican nomination contest, Walker dropped out of the race in September after a couple of underwhelming debate performances that contributed to his inability to register above 1 percent support nationally. Last Tuesday, Walker became the latest Republican politician to endorse Senator Ted Cruz, as fears among the GOP establishment mount over an impending Donald Trump nomination.

The latest YouGov/CBS News Battleground Tracker shows Sanders 2 points ahead of Clinton in Wisconsin, where 86 pledged delegates are at stake. It's a forecast that's too close to call, considering that the survey has a 6 percent margin of error. But in the past week, the Sanders campaign has enthusiastically highlighted that the senator was once 40 points behind his rival in the state, touting the polling turnaround in a series of emails to reporters.


But only one survey ever showed Clinton with that strong of a lead against Sanders and it was taken last March, before either candidate had declared their ambitions for the White House. Two polls in August and September showed Clinton with just a 12-point lead, which has shrunk in the months since.

Fresh off a sweep of Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington on March 27, Sanders is looking to add Wisconsin to a slew of recent victories; he has won six of the last seven primary states that voted in the Democratic race. But with the candidates so close in Wisconsin polling, it's likely that Clinton and Sanders will take nearly the same number of Wisconsin's 86 delegates home with them on Tuesday night.

Related: Bernie Sanders Says Victory in New York Will Win Him the Presidency

Sanders is arguing that a win in Wisconsin will help power him to victory in New York, where he is currently trails Clinton, who served as the state's senator for eight years, by 10 points. Over the weekend, the Vermont senator's campaign stressed Wisconsin's significance as a bellwether for Democratic nominees.

"Wisconsin historically has been a watershed event in the Democratic Party's primary schedule," the campaign said in an email. "Since 1960, with only one exception, the winner here has become the party's standard bearer."

Clinton is currently leading Sanders with 1,243 pledged delegates to his 980. Even a win in Wisconsin on Tuesday night is unlikely to change that delegate deficit by much.

Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields