"Red to the Roots:" Republicans gather in La Crosse, push grass roots activism

LA CROSSE (WITI) — Sen. Ron Johnson will join other Wisconsin Republicans in La Crosse this weekend — for the party’s annual state convention. About a thousand delegates are expected to attend the spread the convention’s theme of turning the state “Red to the Roots.”

Although it’s the first day of the convention, all the talk is about the past. That’s because the race for one of Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate seats is shaping up to be a 2010 rematch.

Feingold lost to Johnson in 2010 by just 5 points. Friday, Johnson is using the first night of the convention to tout his message.

Johnson helped kick things off Friday afternoon with a canned food drive benefiting the Hunger Task Force in La Crosse. There’s a big push behind Johnson in La Crosse — with many delegates being encouraged to go back to their respective counties on Monday — and recruit conservatives to help spread the message.

But Johnson faces a bid for re-election that’s hardly in the bag.

“Those poll numbers are meaningless. I was very surprised Sen. Feingold announced so early,” said U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson.

A recent Marquette Law School poll showed Feingold leading Johnson 54% to 38%.

“He is a career politician. He is addicted to the process. He just couldn’t wait to get in,” said Sen. Johnson.

Johnson says he waited until 6 months before the 2010 election to announce his candidacy. With Feingold’s announcement Thursday, there will be 18 months of campaigning before the 2016 election.

“I don’t think it’s just the senator’s job that’s at stake, it’s the future of what’s going on in our country. Ron Johnson is the number one target of the democrats,” said Julian Bradley, State Convention Chairman.

Julian Bradley is one of the many republicans rallying around Johnson in La Crosse, while looking at 2016’s other big race.

“The democrats are really good at recycling their candidates. Hillary Clinton is running – no surprise. You’ve got Russ Feingold, no surprise. What we’re seeing is recycled candidates with recycled ideas. We can’t afford the recycled results,” said Bradley.

When these delegates return to their respective counties on Monday, they’ll hit the ground running.

Many republican field offices never closed after the last election. It’s all an effort to reinforce the conventions theme this year “Red to the Roots” – flipping Wisconsin from a blue state, to red.

Saturday is the really big day for the convention. Speakers include all the top Republicans in the state — including Congressman Paul Ryan, Attorney General Brad Schimel and Sen. Ron Johnson.

With a potential bid for the presidency, Gov. Walker is an even bigger draw at the convention.

Wisconsin has not voted for a Republican president since Ronald Reagan’s second term. With Johnson up in 2016 and Walker potentially running, the message this weekend is stronger than ever.

“We’re talking about grass roots, grass roots activism. That’s why we were successful in 2014. We know the voter turnout will be higher in 2016,” said Julian Bradley, Republican Party of Wisconsin State Convention Chairman. “If we’re going to be successful again, we really need to ramp things up and make sure our people, as they go back into their communities, are prepared to talk about the conservative message that helped us win in 2014.”

The convention runs through Sunday morning — wrapping up with a prayer breakfast.