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Wisconsin Senate candidates make final push to energize their voters

Will Republicans keep the Senate in the 2018 midterms?

With under 10 days left until Election Day, Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin and her opponent, Republican Senate candidate Leah Vukmir, were out on the trail, seeking to energize their bases in the closing days of their campaigns, encouraging supporters to vote and to organize.

Vukmir and Baldwin also took time to address the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. In an interview with CBS News at a rally in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Vukmir expressed sorrow for the victims and their families."This is just another one of these perfect tragedies," Vukmir said. "We need to all pull together and pray for these families and do whatever we can to make sure things like this don't happen again."

Baldwin offered a similar sentiment, tweeting that she has "the families of Tree of Life Congregation & Pittsburgh first responders in my heart."

"My heart is heavy," Baldwin said in a statement. "This gun violence in our places of worship, our schools, & our streets must stop."

Vukmir does not want to see Congress revisit possible gun control legislation because she believes such legislation could infringe on citizens' Second Amendment rights.

"The attempts to revisit gun control usually will take away the rights of those individuals who are trying to protect themselves," Vukmir added. "People who perpetrate crimes like this are going to get their hands on guns anyway."

CBS News rates this race as "Likely Democratic," and some polling shows that Baldwin has a double-digit lead over Vukmir among likely voters. Vukmir calls herself an "underdog in the race" but added that she believes Republican enthusiasm has increased in the days leading up to Election Day. "We are excited about where we are at. There is definitely momentum on our side," Vukmir said.

Attending a pancake breakfast with the Winnebago County Democratic Party in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Baldwin blasted the GOP tax reform bill passed last year, citing the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office's analysis that the bill would add $1.9 trillion dollars to the debt.

"We were told it would pay for itself," Baldwin said to more than 50 supporters and canvassers. "It is hard to make a two trillion-dollar mathematical error. You have to work really hard to do that."

In response to the national debt, McConnell told Bloomberg News in an interview that it is "pretty safe to say" that entitlement programs, like Social Security and Medicare, are the "real driver of the debt." Baldwin told CBS News that the idea of potential entitlement reductions "terrifies" her and that she learned at a young age from being raised by her grandparents that those programs are "earned benefits."

"I realized that those programs were a lifeline, that they had earned them," Baldwin said.

Before rallying with other Wisconsin GOP officials at a warehouse, Vukmir acknowledged to CBS News that the federal government has a "spending problem" but added that she would like to see Congress balance a budget and restore funding caps before potential cuts to those programs. According to a Treasury Department analysis released earlier this month, the 2018 fiscal year deficit was $799 billion, which is a $113 billion increase from the 2017 fiscal year deficit.

This Senate race also features a stark divide on health care policies between the two candidates. Baldwin is a co-sponsor of Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders' Medicare-for-All legislation and Vukmir is running on repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which she called the "unaffordable care act" in an interview. Vukmir also noted that if elected, repealing the ACA would be one of her first priorities in addition to immigration reform in the Senate.

Vukmir attacked Baldwin's support for a Medicare-for-All approach, saying at the rally that the plan would kick 3.4 million Wisconsinites off of employer-based insurance. According to an analysis by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, the cost of Sanders' legislation would be $32.6 trillion over 10 years.

The primary component of the ACA under debate this election cycle in Wisconsin and around the country is the requirement that insurance companies provide coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. Baldwin and other Democrats running for re-election say that if Republicans maintain the majority in both congressional chambers, they will strip those protections by repealing the ACA. Democrats also point to Republicans who support an ACA lawsuit currently in federal court that is aimed at dismantling the law. 

With health care consistently polling as a top issue for voters, Republicans across the country have campaigned on promises that they, too, will protect coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. 

In an interview, Baldwin rejected this claim and pointed to Vukmir's voting record as a state senator.

"It is easy for people to look up her voting record," Baldwin said. "She voted with the insurance companies and against Wisconsinites when she voted to deny coverage for people who needed oral chemotherapy."

Vukmir, who said she supports association health plans and wants to see states determine health care plans, responded to the notion that she and other Republicans would deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions without an alternative that would include those protections.

"That is a big lie," Vukmir said. "That's the lie of this election that is being perpetuated by Sen. Baldwin and other Democrats."

However, Republican legislation that purports to protect those with pre-existing conditions introduced in Congress in August would not prevent insurers from penalizing such patients. One analyst pointed out, for instance, that under the measure, if it became law, an insurance company could offer a cancer patient a policy that doesn't charge more simply because she is a cancer patient but wouldn't have to cover the care for cancer. 

The rhetoric intensified this past week in Wisconsin when former President Barack Obama said at a rally at Milwaukee's North Division High School that "not a single Republican" joined him and other Democrats in supporting those protections when he took office and when Congress passed the ACA in 2010.

"Since that time, (Republicans) have spent the last 8 years obsessed with trying to undermine, sabotage, repeal that law that makes sure that you're not discriminated against because of pre-existing conditions," Obama said on Friday.

At a rally in Mosinee, Wisconsin on Thursday, President Trump defended Republicans running on health care, vowing that Republicans will "100 percent" protect people with pre-existing conditions.

Baldwin is one of 10 Senate Democrats who is running for re-election in a state that Trump won in the 2016 presidential election. Trump won Wisconsin by less than 1 percent. In the 2016 presidential election, Wisconsin experienced historically low voter turnout, but there is evidence suggesting that more voters are engaged in this midterm election.

In 2016, Democratic Senate candidate Russ Feingold, who ran against Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, received more than 337,000 votes in the 2016 Senate Democratic primary. In the 2018 Senate Democratic primary earlier this year, Baldwin attracted much more -- over 512,000 votes. This trend is also apparent on the Republican side -- Vukmir received more primary votes this year than Johnson did in 2016.

Wearing a tie-dye shirt with a Rosie the Riveter pin that says "Resist!," Kathy Zuehlsdorf, who attended the pancake breakfast with Baldwin, is involved with the Winnebago County Democratic Party. After Obama carried the county in 2008 and 2012, Mr. Trump won the county in 2016.

Zuehlsdorf, who voted for Obama in 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016, said she is at the Winnebago County Democratic Party's headquarters in Oshkosh nearly every day and said she has noticed an uptick in the number of volunteers this cycle. Because of this, she believes a "blue wave nationally looks good," and she thinks that the Winnebago County and Wisconsin' 6th Congressional District is "shading to blue" once again.

Baldwin noted that she has seen a "green wave," alluding to the cash pouring into Wisconsin from special interest groups, but noted that there is another wave that does not have party identification.

"What I also see is a people's wave, a common-sense wave," Baldwin said. "And it isn't so much blue, red or purple."

Jeff Krumrich, a retired teacher who lives in Wisconsin's First Congressional District and attended Vukmir's rally, complained that Baldwin would vote down Mr. Trump's initiatives and that she does not have Wisconsin's best interests at heart. Wearing a Leah Vukmir tee and a red "Keep America Great" hat, he said he voted for Trump in 2016 and plans to vote for Vukmir on Election Day.

Baldwin, he said, "is representing Schumer and California."