Wisconsin official apologizes to opponent over flag flap

Sept. 18, 2018

FILE - In this Aug. 15, 2018, file photo, Mandela Barnes, left, the Wisconsin Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, addresses the media alongside gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers in Madison, Wis.

MADISON, Wis.  Republican Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, in a rare retreat, apologized Tuesday to her Democratic opponent for repeatedly claiming without evidence that he knelt during the national anthem.

Mandela Barnes, the Democratic lieutenant governor candidate, repeatedly called the accusation a lie and said he has never knelt for the anthem. On Monday, Barnes said it was "crazy" for Kleefisch to continue making the claim.

Kleefisch tweeted two weeks ago that "neighbors" had told her they saw Barnes kneel during the anthem. Asked about it at a news conference Monday, Kleefisch said that someone who was at the opening of the Wisconsin State Fair in August told her they saw Barnes kneeling during the anthem.

Kleefisch, Gov. Scott Walker and a host of other officeholders and dignitaries were also at the ceremony. Kleefisch said she didn't see what Barnes was doing because her eyes were on the flag.

"I was told later that he kneeled briefly and I repeated what someone else told me," Kleefisch said on WTMJ radio Tuesday. "He has said that he didn't do it and I have to believe him and I have to apologize for repeating something I was told."

Barnes said he was ready to get beyond it.

"It's a statement that shouldn't have even been made in the first place," Barnes said of Kleefisch's accusation. "It's insane we actually got to this place but hopefully we can move on."

The issue first came up earlier this month when Walker tweeted that all NFL players should stand during the anthem. Walker retweeted a January message from Barnes where he posted, "Take a knee," in reaction to a story questioning whether President Donald Trump knew the words to the national anthem.

Barnes said he always stands during the anthem but supports those who decide not to. In one earlier tweet, Barnes was wearing a jersey of Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL player who knelt two seasons ago during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial inequality.

Evers challenges Walker to drop lawsuit targeting health law

MADISON, Wis.  Democratic candidate for Wisconsin governor Tony Evers is challenging Republican Gov. Scott Walker to drop a lawsuit seeking to repeal the national health care law known as "Obamacare."

Evers argues in the video challenge posted Monday that removing Wisconsin from the 20-state lawsuit would be the best way to ensure that protections for people with pre-existing health conditions remain in place.

The Affordable Care Act guarantees that people with pre-existing conditions can purchase health insurance. The lawsuit would do away with that protection.

Walker has said that while he wants to repeal Obamacare, he also wants a state law to protect those with pre-existing conditions. The Legislature rejected Walker's call earlier this year to pass such a bill.

Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch calls the video a "political stunt," promising that as long as she and Walker are in office pre-existing conditions will be covered.

Republicans face bad numbers with election 7 weeks away

MADISON, Wis. Republicans warned by party standard-bearer Gov. Scott Walker for months about a possible blue wave this November received more bad news Tuesday with a poll showing growing signs of support for Democrats.

The Marquette University Law School poll landed as Walker and his allies have outspent Democratic challenger Tony Evers by millions of dollars, and as Republican Leah Vukmir, a state senator, is trying to knock off Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

The poll showed that 75 percent of Democrats were very enthused about voting compared with 64 percent for Republicans. But pollster Charles Franklin cautioned about reading too much into the numbers with the election seven weeks away.

"Who knows where we will be in October," Franklin said.

Both Republicans and Democrats were quick to point out the same poll two years ago at this point showed GOP Sen. Ron Johnson and then-candidate Donald Trump trailing in Wisconsin. Both went on to win.

"This poll is a snapshot of a very competitive race," said Jess Ward, campaign manager for Vukmir. The poll showed Vukmir trailing Baldwin by 11 points after the race had been about even in August.

The disappointing news for Republicans in Tuesday's poll showed:

Walker's approval and favorability ratings were both under water, with more likely voters having a negative view than positive.

Walker trailed Evers, 49 percent to 44 percent, an uptick for the Democrat after last month's poll showed them even.

Evers held a 20-point lead over independent likely voters the key demographic who tend to determine elections in a state where support among Republicans and Democrats is almost evenly split.

Baldwin's approval rating was at 48 percent compared with just 26 percent for Vukmir. Forty percent had an unfavorable view of Baldwin, compared with 38 percent for Vukmir.

The best news for Republicans was that Attorney General Brad Schimel had a 48 percent to 41 percent lead over Democratic challenger Josh Kaul. Ten percent were undecided.

The poll of 614 likely voters was conducted between Sept. 12 and Sunday. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

Evers campaigned Tuesday in Milwaukee with former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. A group Holder leads has been active in Wisconsin, spending $225,000 in the first six months of the year to help liberal candidates win in special elections for the Legislature and the state Supreme Court race, victories Democrats have pointed to as evidence of a blue wave and that fed Walker's warnings.

Also Tuesday, Walker was in Wausau to witness the signing of an agreement with Foxconn to jointly develop the state's ginseng industry and grow the Taiwan-based company's newly-established, Wisconsin-based brand.

Foxconn, a global electronics giant, is building a flat-screen manufacturing plant and campus in southeast Wisconsin, but it's been announcing smaller ventures across the state.

In the Senate race, Baldwin allies have been attacking Vukmir over votes she's taken as a member of the state Senate. Democrats on Monday faulted Vukmir's vote in 2009, as a member of the state Assembly, against a bill requiring health insurance companies to cover hearing aids and cochlear implants.

Vukmir has consistently voted against insurance mandates, saying they can lead to increased costs for consumers.

Vukmir, meanwhile, has been attacking Baldwin's reaction to the over-prescription of opioids at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Vukmir has accused Baldwin of not reacting quickly enough to the problem at Tomah in 2015, which resulted in a veteran who was a patient there dying.

Baldwin disciplined aides in her office for mishandling complaints about Tomah and sitting on an inspector general's report about problems at the facility. Baldwin co-sponsored a bill signed into law that toughened guidelines for prescribing drugs at VA facilities. It was named after the veteran who died, Jason Simcakoski .

Associated Press