Wisconsin's Republican leaders stressed the importance of maintaining the momentum the party has gained in recent elections at this weekend's 2011 Republican Party of Wisconsin state convention, held in Wisconsin Dells.
According to a news release from the convention's organizers, more than 1,050 people showed up for "the largest non-election year convention in 40 years."
Despite the buzz surrounding the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl, Gov. Scott Walker urged Republicans to focus their efforts primarily on the upcoming recall elections that will put as many as nine state Senate seats up for grabs, referring to Wisconsin as a "battleground state."
State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald echoed the sentiment, paraphrased as saying the recall elections have made the state Senate "the bulls-eye of a national political battle." On Friday, state elections staff members recommended that recall elections be held July 12 for Republican Sens. Dan Kapanke of La Crosse, Randy Hopper of Fond du Lac and Luther Olsen of Ripon. Three more Republican senators, as well as three Democrats, face recall recommendations within the next week.
Signs and t-shirts bearing the phrase "Tommy for Senate" were popular at the convention, indicating that former Gov. Tommy Thompson might make a run for Kohl's Senate seat, which has been under Democratic control for more than 50 years.
However, the winner of the convention's straw poll for the seat was former State Sen. Ted Kanavas, who received 73 votes to Thompson's 61.
"There is a long way to go, but this vote of confidence gives us something to think about, and build upon, as I seriously consider running," wrote Kanavas.
A presidential straw poll favored Herman Cain, who received 80 of 301 votes. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels came in behind Cain with 50 votes. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who won last year's straw poll, received just 35 votes this year.
Sen. Ron Johnson, who defeated Democratic incumbent Russ Feingold in 2010, said the country is at a "tipping point" and that the conservative movement has been reawakened.
Republican National Committee Vice President Mary Buestrin told the crowd, "We must return the power to the people instead of our government."
The Baraboo News Republic also reports that U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner said Republicans are "winners," before saying "goodbye, and I hope for good, from public office" to Democrats Feingold, Kohl, former Gov. Jim Doyle, former U.S. Rep. Dave Obey and former U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen.
Fitzgerald also took jabs at Democrats, referring to the Democratic Senators who left town in protest of the budget repair bill as a game of "Where's Waldo with the 14 fleabaggers."
Regarding the convention and the upcoming recall elections, "We Are Wisconsin" spokesman Kelly Steele told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "Ultimately, we're confident voters will choose to put the brakes on Walker's unprecedented overreach for power -- an extreme and dangerous agenda on which he most certainly was not elected -- and the GOP senators who have rubber-stamped his agenda every step of the way."
Republicans Sensenbrenner, Fitzgerald, Walker and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan touted the national spotlight on Wisconsin as a positive theme. Ryan referred to the "clash of philosophies and the battle of ideas" within the state, adding that Wisconsin will "largely determine the direction of this country."
However, state Democratic Party Chairman Graeme Zielinski told the Superior Telegram that Republicans chose this fight and brought it to the people of Wisconsin, adding that the division of ideas among Wisconsinites was "nothing to be proud of."