“On Wisconsin!” Why the Badger State is Critical in 2020 – “Sunday Political Brunch” October 20, 2019


MILWAUKEE, Wisc. – I am on the road this week in my native State of Wisconsin where I grew up and cultivated my love of politics. “America’s Dairyland,” as it is known, is usually one of the eight or ten battleground states that decide a presidential election. 2020 will be no different as the Badger State will be critical to who gets the keys to the White House doors.

“An Unconventional Convention” – The 2020 Democratic National Convention will be in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 2020, the first time the state has ever hosted a national nominating convention. The other finalists and semi-finalists were Denver (in a likely blue state), Houston, (in a likely red state), and Miami (in a leaning red state). Atlanta, (in a leaning red state), Birmingham (in a certain red state), and Las Vegas, (in a likely blue state), also bid. What’s the difference? Wisconsin is a clear toss-up state Democrats must win back in order to take back the White House. There really was no other logical choice here.

“The Ghosts of 2016” – Wisconsin was supposed to be a slam-dunk for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Yet she lost the Democratic Primary to Bernie Sanders by 13 points. The General Election polls indicated Wisconsin was likely a blue state, so Clinton never returned to the Badger State after the primary. That was a huge mistake. Wisconsin is one of those states where retail politics still matters. You must shake hands at factory gates at 6am, even if it’s minus-10 degrees, and there are two feet of snow on the ground. You go bowling, and attend a Packer game, too. She did none of that. Donald Trump showed up early and often, and he won by 23,000 votes, with the percentage 47.22 for Trump to 46.45 for Clinton. It was razor thin.

“Read Your History” – I have covered the last 11 presidential elections, starting with the Carter-Reagan-Anderson contest in Wisconsin in 1980, when I did news on 850AM WMUR, Marquette University Radio. Of those 11 races, Republican candidates won Wisconsin six times, and Democrats five. But the most instructive statistic is that in 8 of these 11 elections, Wisconsin voted for the winning candidate. So yes, the state is purple, and see-saws between picking Democrats and Republicans, but almost always Wisconsin picks the winner. The state is a great bellwether for reading the national mood.

“What’s a Purple State?” – Well, it’s a state with a mix of strong liberal leanings, and solid pockets of conservatives. The simplest way to analyze it is to say Democrats do well in urban areas, and Republicans do well in rural areas. But it’s not that simple. Yes, the city of Milwaukee and its blue-collar suburbs are powerful union Democrat strongholds. But the middle and upper-middle class suburbs of Milwaukee, are largely white and conservative. Madison, often called the “Berkeley of the Midwest” is easily the state’s most liberal-progressive enclave. But Green Bay, another urban area is very red. The state is not easily defined politically, nor is it predictable. The worst thing you can do is assume you’ll win. Just ask Hillary Clinton.

“A Neighborly Place” – Wisconsin has a reputation for being one of the nicest, friendliest, most hospitable states in the nation. It’s downright neighborly. And one of its best neighbors is Minnesota. In 1976, Jimmy Carter named Senator Walter Mondale (D) Minnesota as his running mate, and it played well. The Carter-Mondale ticket carried Wisconsin in a close race and that carried it to victory at the White House. It is for this very reason that I still see Senator Amy Klobuchar (D) Minnesota as a top-tier candidate for vice president in 2020. She could help win back Wisconsin for the Democrats.

“But, Wait a Minute!” – Maybe the most important lesson about Wisconsin politics is that its voters should never be taken for granted. Yes, in 1976 they chose Carter-Mondale, but with the Iran hostage crisis and the worst economic downtown since the Great Depression, Wisconsin flipped and voted for Ronald Reagan and George Bush in 1980. The lesson here is that neither party owns this state. You must win it, and then perform to the satisfaction of voters, to win it again. Make no assumptions. Wisconsin votes on results, and this is a lesson to which President Trump must play attention.

“Why All This Matters” – On the surface you might look at Wisconsin and its 10 Electoral College votes and say, “What’s the big deal? It’s just Wisconsin!” Well, in 2016, Donald Trump specifically targeted Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania in the final three weeks, and he carried each state. Many political analysts – including me – predicted he would win none of these states, yet he pulled a hat-trick and took all three. If all other states remain the same, Democrats must win ALL three of these states to take the keys to the White House. So, Wisconsin matters a lot.

My biggest dilemma is not choosing candidates, but rather hamburgers. While in the Badger State this week do I dine at “George Webb,” or at “Culvers” for my burgers. It’s a tough choice!

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia and its five surrounding states including most of the Washington, D.C. media market. He is a National Contributing Writer for “The White House Patch” at www.Patch.com.

© Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: WUWM.com

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