MADISON, Wis. — Donald Trump probably won’t win Wisconsin, given the dismal performance of past Republican presidential candidates in the state, the Assembly’s top Republican said.
Trump appeared at a rally in Waukesha, one of the state’s most conservative cities, on Wednesday evening. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos on Thursday pointed out that a Republican presidential candidate hasn’t won Wisconsin since 1984, and predicted that Trump probably won’t break that streak.
Vos made the remarks during a debate with Democratic Minority Leader Peter Barca at a downtown Madison club. He said the Wisconsin GOP was initially concerned about Trump hurting down-ticket Republican candidates, but that he now believes Trump is helping them by energizing conservative voters. He predicted that Republicans will retain their Assembly majority with something close to the 63-36 advantage they now enjoy.
“If the election was today, we’d come back with all 63 seats,” Vos said.
Trump’s Wisconsin campaign director didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Vos supported Sen. Marco Rubio during the primary season and as recently as last month, he branded Trump an embarrassment. He said during the debate that he now supports the billionaire candidate. Vos explained to reporters afterward that he was angry with Trump because Trump didn’t automatically endorse House Speaker Paul Ryan, one of the Wisconsin GOP’s stars, in Ryan’s primary race. Trump eventually did issue the endorsement, which Vos said changed his mind about Trump.
Barca, for his part, said he expects a huge turnout for Hillary Clinton and U.S. Senate candidate Russ Feingold. The latest Marquette University Law School poll released on Sept. 21 showed Clinton and Trump about even and Feingold leading incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson. Still, Barca predicted that a national Democratic wave that could carry his party back to the majority in the Assembly.
“I don’t know what record Republicans will run on,” Barca said. “We feel very positive about this environment.”
Vos and Barca spent much of the rest of the debate bickering over legislative issues as if they were on the Assembly floor, with Vos interrupting Barca several times to call him critical and negative.
“Democrats, their job is to look outside and find a way to complain about the sunshine,” Vos said.
The hottest topic was the state’s road-funding shortfall. Gov. Scott Walker has proposed delaying major projects and relying on borrowing rather than raising the gas tax or vehicle registration fees, a move that Vos and Assembly Republicans have called short-sighted.
Vos said he’s open to any ways of reducing costs and raising revenue. Barca called Walker’s budget “disgraceful” and ripped Republicans for rejecting Democrats’ proposal to automatically raise the gas tax last year.
“Their record on this is abysmal and I don’t have much confidence … it’s going to be any different,” Barca said.
Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1 .