After a physically and emotionally draining two years of political fights — most of them losses — Wisconsin Democrats are heading south this week, hoping a little fellowship and intra-party partying will re-energize them for the electoral sprint to November.
Thousands of delegates from all over the country will head to Charlotte, N.C., this week to take part in the Democratic National Convention, a three-day nationally televised event that results in the official nomination of President Barack Obama as the titular head of the party.
Wisconsin played a large role in last week's Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. Helmed by former Republican Party of Wisconsin chairman and current RNC head Reince Priebus, that event featured Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan , the GOP's nominee as vice president, prominently.
The state won't be featured nearly as much at the DNC. But still, given its national exposure over the past 18 months, Wisconsin's 131 delegates, alternates and other official attendees likely will be peppered with questions about protests, recalls and the candidacy of Ryan.
"We are already pretty popular when we head out of state" said state Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, the party's nominee to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, and a delegate for the third time. "People have seen us on TV and heard all of the stories, so they want to know about it from the inside. And having Ryan on the Republican ticket just kicks that up a notch."
A two-year battleground
Wisconsin's political climate has been a national story for almost two years. Beginning in February 2011 when Walker introduced his proposal to limit public sector collective bargaining, the state has been involved in one long political war.
Thousands of people filled the streets around the Capitol and the halls inside it, for weeks. The fervor ultimately led to 15 recall elections in less than a year. Democrats eventually were able to take control of the state Senate, but the party lost more than it won, including a humiliating recall defeat at the hands of the governor.
Such an incredible workload for employees, politicians and volunteers has left many of them in need of a boost.
"It has been a tough year, it really has," said Susan Van Sicklin, 63, of Dodgeville, a retired teacher and first-time delegate. "But we fought a good fight, an important one. And I am looking forward to this trip. I really hope it will reinvigorate me so I can come back and help keep Iowa County blue."
Evan Giesemann, 22, a recent UW-Madison graduate, shares Sicklin's optimism. The convention also will be his first and he hopes the experience will give him the energy to come back and "rally the troops" for November.
"You know, we haven't really taken a break in a long time, and I think people are tired," he said. "But this is exciting, for those of us going and the people at home watching on TV. I think it will give us a charge."
Delegates set for long days
The delegates, which include politicians, party leaders and rank-and-file members, have a busy schedule for the week. Most will arrive Sunday and stay until Friday, though the event officially runs Tuesday through Thursday, with a kick-off party on Monday, Labor Day.
No official schedule was available by press time, but the DNC previously announced that Baldwin will address the convention. Baldwin, running for U.S. Senate against Republican Tommy Thompson, is the most high-profile state Democrat with a known speaking role at the convention. Through a spokesman, she declined a request to comment last week.
According to Racine delegate Meg Andrietsch, convention days start early and include caucus meetings and council meetings, floor votes and many speakers.
There is plenty of time, though, for socializing, said Andrietsch. Part of the excitement is seeing friends from other parts of the country.
This will be Andrietsch's second convention. She attended the historic 2008 convention in Denver and remembers fondly nominating Obama, the country's first black president.
"There were tears in our eyes," she said. "Doing this is an honor. You have to recognize the importance of what you're witnessing. You have to be aware of your place in history.