WI Democrats work to avoid repeat of VA governor's race, Republicans look ahead to 2022

NOW: WI Democrats work to avoid repeat of VA governor’s race, Republicans look ahead to 2022

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- This week wasn't the best for Democrats heading into the 2022 midterm elections after a Republican victory in Virginia's governor's race and some troubling poll numbers for Governor Tony Evers.

But despite those circumstances, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin is kicking off a weekend of action a year out from the 2022 midterms, to reach voters in hopes of avoiding a repeat of what occurred in Virginia. Meanwhile, Republicans are focusing on the strategies that worked.

Republican Glenn Youngkin's victory in Virginia, and Democrat Phil Murphy's surprisingly narrow win for governor in New Jersey, are indicators for how both parties are doing.

In Virginia, President Biden carried it by 10 points just a year ago. New Jersey, an even bluer state, came down to a much closer race than expected.

"We have always known midterm elections with a Democratic president is going to be a tough fight," said Ben Wikler, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

Wikler said they are "ablaze" with energy heading into the next year, but also acknowledged the challenges ahead for incumbents like Gov. Tony Evers as historically, statewide races are often decided by less than one percentage point.

He said that's why they are going to attempt to reach 100,000 voters this weekend.

"This is a massive organizing effort and it's exactly what we need to make absolutely sure Wisconsin is a success story as we go out of 2022," Wikler said.

The Issues

Candidates in Virginia and New Jersey often talked about COVID-19 and education on the campaign trail.

Republicans rebelled against COVID-19 protocols and critical race theory. Meanwhile, Democrats stood behind public health measures and called CRT a non-issue since many cast doubt it's being taught in schools.

Those topics were also the focus of a failed recall attempt of four Mequon-Thiensville school board members. So while those issues may have worked in other states, it's unclear if it would work in Wisconsin. Overall, it gives candidates and party leaders a roadmap for next year.

"Parents are wondering, what are my kids learning, and are they safe? There's a lot of frustration out there and people are looking to make a change," said Mark Jefferson, executive director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin.

Trump Factor

Tuesday's election also showed Republicans' ability to distance themselves from former President Donald Trump and still flourish without him on the ballot. Youngkin accepted Trump's endorsement, but he kept him on the sidelines from the campaign and rarely spoke his name.

Jefferson believes this strategy can work in Wisconsin. When asked if the party should avoid aligning their campaigns with Trump, Jefferson said it's time for candidates to establish themselves. 

"Those candidates need to talk to taxpayers and say here's my plan to lower taxes, put more of that money in the pockets of the working-class," Jefferson said. "It's not about alignments with this person, that person, it's about each individual and what they plan to do for voters of this state."

Jefferson said beyond education, his party's messaging in 2022 is focusing on jobs, the economy, reducing crime and aiding law enforcement agencies, and connecting with working-class families.

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