Clinton lines up powerful backers in Wisconsin

The AP

With less than two months to go before the state’s April 5 primary, powerful Wisconsin Democrats are working behind the scenes to raise money and organize supporters to help Hillary Clinton’s campaign. There are few signs of a similar show of force for her challenger Bernie Sanders.

The dynamic on display in Wisconsin in many ways echoes the fight nationally between Clinton and the independent Vermont senator. Clinton enjoys the support of Democratic Party insiders and activists she’s known and worked with for years, while the lesser-known Sanders is relying on small money donations and an army of younger voters and more liberal backers not as connected with the party.

Neither campaign has any paid staff or an official presence yet in Wisconsin, but a fundraiser for Clinton says it is now “off to the races” to be ready for April 5.

That includes raising money, identifying and contacting supporters and recruiting volunteers, said Clinton backer and longtime Wisconsin-based political activist Heather Colburn.

Clinton has locked up five of the state’s 10 party insiders, known as superdelegates, who will vote for a nominee at the convention in July. Among them are some of the most well-known and powerful Democrats in Wisconsin — U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, of Milwaukee, and longtime Milwaukee-based activist and former state party chairwoman Martha Love.

Their support for Clinton is rock solid.

“I’m in it for Hillary Clinton until the end,” Love said. “Just so you know, as long as you call Martha Love, as long as she’s got breath, she’s in it for Hillary Clinton.”

Four of the other five superdelegates are uncommitted and the fifth, state party chairwoman Martha Laning, said she would support whoever wins the state’s primary.

After the Democratic debate last week in Milwaukee, advocates for Clinton in the spin room had a definite Wisconsin focus and included Baldwin and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. The Sanders team focused on national surrogates, but Wisconsin-based supporters are preparing for him in the upcoming primary as well.

The Working Families Party, a national coalition of labor groups, has endorsed Sanders, and its recently formed Wisconsin chapter is also behind him.

“We think he can win in Wisconsin, and we’ll be getting our members activated in the campaign here,” said the group’s state director, Marina Dimitrijevic, a member of the Milwaukee County Board.

Sanders’ appeal in Wisconsin likely will be centered in liberal hubs like Madison and Milwaukee. Sanders’ only visit to Wisconsin during the campaign was to Madison in July, when he attracted 10,000 people for his largest rally up to that point.

More recently, Sanders’ backers have organized debate-watch parties, volunteer phone banks and other similar activities through social networking sites such as Facebook.

The “Wisconsin for Bernie Sanders” page had about 3,500 “likes,” as WiG headed to press.

Colburn, who also managed Clinton’s Wisconsin campaign in 2008, said Clinton has similar support groups organized regionally across the state. One pro-Clinton group on Facebook had about 3,000 “likes.”

Colburn said the moving of Wisconsin’s primary from mid-February to early April changes the dynamic in the state, and also allows the candidates more time to organize. Clinton lost to Barack Obama in Wisconsin by 17 points in 2008.