State GOP Chair Brad Courtney counts Gov. Scott Walker among his closest friends.

So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that they sound a lot alike when talking about the task ahead for Republicans in 2018:

*the GOP needs to remind voters of how well things are going now compared to eight years ago when Dem Jim Doyle was still in charge;

*Republicans will carry a message of optimism to voters;

*and Walker’s record will be on the ballot in Wisconsin come November, not President Trump.

In previewing next weekend’s GOP state convention in Milwaukee, Courtney laid out an overview of his speech to delegates that hits on many of Walker’s favorite talking points: a record-low unemployment rate compared to 9.4 percent in March 2009; a drop in property tax bills after a string of increases under Doyle; and a tuition freeze at the UW System after rates climbed under the Dem’s watch.

“We just have to remind people how far we’ve come, and I’ll just bring it up how things were pretty bad,” Courtney told in a new interview.

Dems have regularly knocked Walker for focusing on Doyle, who left office more than seven years ago. But Courtney said the comparison remains valid, because voters have grown used to Wisconsin’s successes and complacent with how well things are going compared to before Republicans took over the Capitol in 2011.

Dems also see the Trump’s poll numbers as one reason to believe a blue wave is headed to Wisconsin this fall.

Courtney, though, argued Walker’s record, not Trump’s, will be on the ballot in November for Republicans to run on.

Still, he said the president needs to do a better job of selling the benefits of the GOP tax overhaul. Courtney, the president of Courtney Industrial Battery, said he signs 31 individual paychecks and with the overtime many hourly employees make, they aren’t necessarily noticing the impact of the tax cut.

“There is obviously frustration in Washington,” Courtney said. “But we’ve done a lot of good things in Wisconsin over the last eight years, and we’ve delivered on really everything that Gov. Walker has ran on.”

Beyond defending the offices they already hold, Republicans’ top priorities for November include beating U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, of Madison, one of only two Dems to hold statewide office in Wisconsin.

The primary between business consultant and former Marine Kevin Nicholson and state Sen. Leah Vukmir has turned increasingly heated despite the two signing a unity pledge. The pledge requires the loser of the primary to back the winner, conduct themselves in a way that’s respectful of fellow Republicans and respect the endorsement process.

Asked if the two were still adhering to the pledge, Courtney said he appreciated how hard they’ve been working and said both provide a clear contrast to Baldwin.

“They’re both quite vocal in saying that either one of them are better than Tammy Baldwin. I feel there will be no problem with that,” he said.

Courtney said by the end of November he will become the longest serving chair in party history when adding his two stints together. He filled out the remainder of Rick Graber’s term as chair in 2006 after the incumbent became the ambassador to the Czech Republic. He then was elected chair in 2011 after Reince Priebus took over the national party.

Courtney said he hasn’t thought of whether he would seek another two-year term after the fall elections. The chair is selected by the party’s executive committee, and the guv often has significant influence over the pick if the GOP controls the office.

Regardless of whether he seeks another term, Courtney said he hopes his legacy will be his emphasis on the importance of the grassroots to the party’s success.

“It’s not about raising a ton of money and spending it all on TV ads,” he said. “It’s putting together a program where we can identify our voters and then motivate them ultimately to get to the polls and educate our base, educate swing voters about what our candidates are all about. I’d guess I’d like to think I’ve been a grassroots guy, always cared about that.”

This post is part of our coverage of the 2018 state GOP convention in Milwaukee. See the rest of our coverage here:


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