A who's who of top Wisconsin Republican politicians are expected to appear at a Jan. 21 rally in support of Gov. Scott Walker at Hart Park in Wauwatosa.
While anti-Walker rallies have taken place throughout Wisconsin over the last year, this event is believed to be the first major rally in support of the governor since the effort to recall him began on Nov. 15.
Organizers are hoping for hundreds of Walker backers to take part in the rally, which will be headlined by some of the biggest Republican names in the state, including:
- Former Gov. and U.S. Senate candidate Tommy Thompson;
- Former congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Mark Neumann;
- Speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly and U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Fitzgerald;
- State Sens. Leah Vukmir, Alberta Darling, Glen Grothman and Van Wanggaard; and
- State Reps. Robin Vos, Jeff Stone and David Craig;
- State Treasurer Kurt Schuller.
Nationally known political activist Kim Simac, Libertarian speaker Tim Nerenz and teenage political activist Jerrid Madden also will take part in the rally, which will be held from 1 to 4 p.m.
The office of state Sen. Leah Vukmir confirmed Tuesday that she would be the introductory speaker at the event. Spokesmen for Thompson and Neumann also confirmed Wednesday that the two will attend the event.
Now that Walker has acknowledged that it's all but certain he will face a recall election, the organizers are calling the event a celebration of the governor's accomplishments, rather than an anti-recall rally. The event will take place just days after the Jan. 17 deadline for recall organizers to turn in 540,000 valid signature to force an election.
Behind the rally is what amounts to a grassroots movement in the virtual world. No single chartered organization is yet involved, although one is in the wings. Rather, a number of pro-Walker folks using social media came up with the idea and watched in surprise as it spiraled into a major Republican Party event.
"It's a collective of different Facebook groups," said Santo Ingrilli, who is acting as spokesman for the group. "We were just messaging back and forth, and the idea of some kind of rally took hold.
"We thought it was going to be this little organic event - maybe 100, 200 people in the park, with maybe Senator Vukmir on hand. We were going to have 'thank you' cards to fill out for the governor and his family," Ingrilli explained.
"Then we put it out there, and Vukmir agreed, and then we heard from Mark Neumann's office that he wanted to be on board. Then, of course, Tommy Thompson wanted to be part of it, too.
"It just kind of exploded from there."
Kind of. More than 500 people have clicked "Going" on the event's Facebook page, and it's possible that more than 1,000 will show up.
"In a perfect world, that would be a target," Ingrilli said. "I'd like to see 600 people. If we had 750, I'd be happy. If we got 1,000, I'd throw a party."
Doing It Like the Other Side
Much may depend on the weather, but the lineup of party heavyweights, once the word gets out, may draw the masses. And it may draw opponents as well.
Ingrilli said the governor himself was scheduled to be out of the state on the date, but probably would have demurred anyway to avoid imposing security concerns on the rally.
Ingrilli said a new Republican political action committee called Onward Wisconsin was incorporating this week and that "it will be the major sponsor when all is said and done."
As the list of powerful Republicans eager to show up grew, Ingrilli's cohort even went so far as to set up bus rides from much of the eastern portion of the state – much as Recall Walker organizers did in November when they organized a rally in Wauwatosa in front of Walker's home on the first day of signature-gathering.
Ingrilli's involvement started when he put up a tongue-twisting Facebook page called Walker Backers Watching Walker Stalkers. He never intended it to become a major organizing instrument for the GOP elite, and he is pretty surprised it turned out to be.
"Our side isn't usually that good at this," he said. "The other guys are the ones who get 40,000 people to show up at the Capitol. We just show up to vote."